Author: Christina Lauren
Audiobook Length: 7 hours 16 minutes
Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.
Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.
Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them…right?
Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is my fifth Christina Lauren novel. It follows the fairly standard friends to lovers scenario with an ending that is dividing for readers. Some may not mind it and others have found it “ruined” their enjoyment of the story. For me, I did not hate it, but it just felt unnecessary since it is introduced around the 80ish percent mark and takes a turn at the 94ish percent, which left no time to actually explore it before the story is over. For me, the epilogue still would have tied in just based on conversations throughout the story. Before going into my thoughts about the main story, it should be noted that there is one moment where a homophophic slur is said by one of the secondary characters that is a throwaway moment during a conversation as they are recalling a memory of another character. This made me really question the point of using the word as it is never discussed nor does it add anything to the story, so, for me, it was a very poor choice on both the part of the authors and editors.
The story begins with a prologue where 18-years-old Hazel runs into 20-years-old Josh (Ji-min) when they at university together. After an unfortunate incident at a party, Josh was cemented in Hazel’s mind as her ideal man. The two interact again when Josh is a TA for one of Hazel’s classes and she ends up sending him a note for an extension on an assignment while high on painkillers. The two parted way after college and the main story begins seven years later. Hazel is now a 3rd grade teacher in Portland, Oregon and ends up running into Josh, who is now a physical therapist, while out one night with her co-worker and friend, Emily (Yu-jin), who is Josh’s sister. Josh is currently dating a woman named Tabitha for the past two years and the two have a long distance relationship as she now lives in Los Angeles. Josh and Hazel end up becoming friends and the main catalyst that moves the story forward is after Josh break’s up with Tabitha. Hazel and Josh create and agreement to set each other up on dates in hopes to help the other find love. While Hazel’s crush on Josh is apparent from the very beginning, Josh’s interest is slowly revealed as the story moves forward. As Josh is more reserved, while Hazel is very outgoing, the two have fun bringing out different sides of each other.
While I do completely love that Hazel is herself and does not wish to change for anyone, there were many moments where it seemed that she was written like a caricature of an over the top person. Some examples include saying everything without a filter, being chaotic and wild in every situation where she stands out, loving animals to the point that she wants chickens in her apartment, eats everything without caring, and drinking to the point where she takes her shirt off and vomits everywhere. I am very much on board with a chaotically realistic main character, but it just came off a bit much to just emphasize the point that Josh is the only one able to connect with the chaos. I actually related a lot to parts of her character and greatly loved many elements, but it just felt like too much was packed in to make the point that she was different. This also was emphasized by multiple events of telling the reader this while also illustrating it through various scenarios. In thinking about it, I think was more the part I did not connect with compared to each individual trait for Hazel. As a contrast, Josh is written as a “regular” guy who just accepts Hazel for who she is and does not wish to change her while trying to make her happy.
Overall, the story was enjoyable, although the dating scenarios do follow the same formula again and again. The two introduce a date to the other, one or both doesn’t connect with their date, the two get closer after going over the date, they deny their growing feelings, and repeat. There is also the usual writing where each character is perfect by societal standards in their appearance (Hazel is 5’4” 110 pounds with a tiny figure and big boobs while Josh is taller, slim with tons of muscles). While their appearances initially did not affect my enjoyment as I am fine with characters looking any way the author(s) want(s), it became a bit much when it was repeated and there was a lot of telling rather than relying on showing through interactions. In combination with the other instances where emphasis was given to telling rather than showing, it did become a lot in a very short novel.
As I said above, I loved both Hazel and Josh as characters and I greatly enjoyed their story. Through Hazel, the reader gets to see the contradictory events where you are told it is okay to be yourself, but then you are told you are embarrassing in the moment. It was a nice way to show how others do not automatically accept the girl that is “different,” even though she is just herself. The story gives a sweet and entertaining look at their journey from friends to lovers and how they want to make sure the other is happy no matter the circumstances. Aside from the ending, the book is a light and humorous read that is perfect to read between other more involved novels. It may not have been my top read by the authors, but it was still enjoyable and I will still easily read more of their works.