Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Okay, I have to be honest. Since I’m a professor of English (albeit an adjunct one), I go into professor/student romances trepidatiously BECAUSE I could never see myself becoming involved with one of my students. Reading that particular trope in a romance story incites an extreme need to suspend my disbelief, which I can do…to a point. I fell in love with Roxie Noir with Daniel and Charlie’s story in Best Fake Fiance. I had signed up to read an ARC of that book and loved every bit of that book. Levi and June followed in Break the Rules, and I found myself, once again, falling deeper for the Loveless Brothers. When I posted Caleb Loveless’s cover, I was ready. There is something that is comforting and homey about the Loveless Brothers. They support each other while also giving each other a hard time. No matter what, though, these guys support and love in ways that evoke true heroic character. Ready for Caleb’s story, I dove into Noir’s, The Hookup Equation. This story offers the message that choosing love will always win even if the circumstances and consequences are difficult.
And I love that message. Truly. Caleb and Thalia are intelligent, thoughtful characters. There are academically-motivated discussions in this book about feminism and choice/consent that are necessary discussions. Noir doesn’t pull the punches with regard to the weight of the power dynamic between Caleb and Thalia. In doing so, it opens discourse about protecting people in a subordinate position from being exploited. This is a prominent discussion in The Hookup Equation. The brilliance of Noir in these moments is her insistence on presenting various viewpoints. From Thalia and Caleb’s perspective, their relationship is consensual, and both are aware of the consequences of it. They don’t identify a power imbalance because they thoughtfully talk about a relationship of equality or partnership. However, through the character of Thalia’s roommate, Margaret, we receive the common perspective of misuse of power. She believes Thalia is unable to notice Caleb’s position of power. Yet, while Noir articulates this through Margaret’s character, she acknowledges the reduction of Margaret’s thinking in reducing Thalia’s sense of choice. She helps us see the problems of making assumptions about people’s relationships without speaking with them directly and allowing their perspective. Noir also involves the administration’s viewpoint of this situation, and it identifies the need to protect students, yet also highlights the stringent, inflexible definitions of morality. These discussions become the “meat,” the gravity, of the story as Caleb and Thalia engage in a “forbidden” relationship. These are important discussions, but the issue with this level of story development is that it can detract from the emotional development of the characters’ relationship.
And this is where The Hookup Equation deviated from the other Loveless Brothers’ books. Since there is an intelligence and academic insight in this book, the emotional connection, the journey towards love, feels innocuous at times. Where I was emotionally engaged in Daniel/Charlie and Levi/June’s stories, the emotional tug of Caleb and Thalia didn’t hit me until almost 90% in, and I missed it in this book. I’ve come to expect it with Noir’s storytelling. Thalia and Caleb have clear chemistry, and as their physical relationship develops, it feels like their connection is more physical, while only sometimes emotional and intellectual. The bigger emotional pay-offs in this book lie in Thalia’s family. Noir is introducing us to a familial dynamic that is contrary to the Loveless family. I’m hoping we will see their family situation play out in books for Thalia’s brothers. But….for The Hookup Equation, while the story between Caleb and Thalia is smart, it’s missing the spark of the last two books. I kept waiting for it, noting the disconnect on the page. It eventually hits, but it doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the other two books.
There is still quite a bit to love about The Hookup Equation. Beyond Caleb and Thalia’s journey, Noir gifts us with a big truth/secret of the Loveless family. We are returned to a place that is starting to feel nostalgic in Roxie Noir’s books. Even more, I see Seth’s forthcoming story as a potential powerhouse given that he is secreted in this one. It would be unrealistic to say that every book MUST be emotional dynamite. The Hookup Equation gives us more of what we love about Roxie Noir: a sentimental, fun-loving family, a story that compels you forward, and a love story that touches on the deeper truths of life.
In love and romance,