Suzanne Park’s upcoming #OwnVoices novel, Loathe at First Sight, brings you to the competitive world of game production with heroine Melody Joo. Korean-American and female, Melody finds it difficult to navigate the blatantly racist and sexist harassment in this industry, but everything gets worse when she starts to produce her own mobile game, Zombie Apocalypse, in which male strippers have to save the world from zombie destruction. As news of her new game spreads, she becomes a victim of doxing, online harassment, and—unrelated—her growing feelings for her intern, Nolan.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the novel and feel okay recommending this to others, but I do have to say that the beginning was rough. I contemplated DNF-ing it, and the primary reason for this was that the book read as an early draft of the story. With a few more revisions, I do believe the book can go from decent to pretty good. Luckily, I gave it a chance, and Park’s easygoing writing style and fast pacing carried me through to the middle and final acts, which were much better than the first; the plot becomes more intricate while her writing style matures and ups the wit.
I really appreciate how the book showcases a strong, quippy female lead in Melody Joo, but I’m not sure how much her character develops. Perhaps she isn’t meant to because the main issue of the story is the toxic, close-minded environment in which she is placed. It is refreshing to see her unapologetic self showing the world that the world is what has to change, not herself. However, my doubts about this deeper message derive from the fact that not a single character changes, except Asher, which leads to another problem: most of the characters are so one-dimensional that their actions and subsequent consequences seem almost cartoonish.
What’s difficult about texts like these is, if your main point is to flesh out the depth of a minority character like Melody, you have to equally flesh out the people surrounding her, or else they’re the ones who become tropes and the message of “view people as real people” collapses in on itself. That’s what happens here, when every jerk in the company becomes a douchey frat boy, every supporter of Melody speaks in literally the same voice, and other minority employees Melody works with become as clichéd and disregarded as Melody feels all the time (in particular, I wasn’t a fan of the portrayal of male coworkers who clearly came from Asia).
The last, possibly biggest, issue I had with this story was how incredibly contrived everything was. Melody could not go anywhere in all of the city of Seattle without running into people. Perfect case in point: the dinner Melody goes to as part of her friend Jane’s bridal party to meet the groomsmen. There, she sees that the best man is not only her coworker but also her new officemate, Asher. Meanwhile, another groomsman is their friend Candace’s gynecologist, and it so happens she just found out from him that she’s pregnant. Talk about timing. Meanwhile, the company’s new intern Nolan is chilling at the bar in the same restaurant.
Ok, look. I barely run into my neighbor in our shared apartment building. I can only suspend my belief so many times at these coincidences. It happens a lot. Way too often. Another example: Melody’s parents spontaneously decide to drop in on her in Seattle at the exact same time Nolan’s parents already planned their visit, then both families meet at the same restaurant at the exact same time. Does Seattle only have two restaurants?
Overall, I appreciate that this book, despite its misleading title, doesn’t focus on the romance—which lacks as much substance as the characters, but was pleasant enough. Honestly, at one point I wondered if Melody was supposed to end up with Asher because the book focused much more on them and the development of their relationship. And I was more emotionally invested in this. Not saying I shipped them, but so much more interesting of a dynamic. Nolan and the love line were bland at best and, again regarding the misleading title, they barely hate each other in the beginning.
Loathe at First Sight shines best when it focuses on Melody’s hard work in the office and how she handles all the challenges the best way she can despite the immense pressure, stress, and fear. All parts about the game production were interesting, and I was inspired by her unwavering dedication to her work and proving herself to others. The overall book was pretty refreshing, and I, as a fellow Korean-American, really did enjoy reading about Melody and her struggles, especially in entering a creative company. I do wish there was more on her friendship with Jane and Candace as they are mostly just there, like accessories for the heroine and the novel’s subplot.
In the end, the book did have some notable issues. The story and characters can use a ton of fleshing out. Still, there were some genuinely witty and funny lines that I smiled at, and I ended the book on a good note. It was a rocky but enjoyable ride. I liked the overall pacing and ending, and I will keep an eye out for Suzanne Park’s future works.
There’s a lot of potential here, so if you want a quick and easy read, you can preorder Loathe at First Sight by clicking the affiliate icon below or check out her previous work, The Perfect Escape. Loathe at First Sight will be available on August 18.