Romance novel connoisseur Hayley sorts the trash from the treasure.
I spend far too much of my time on TikTok, scrolling endlessly. It was inevitable I would stumble upon a popular community there, namely: BookTok. BookTok is a place where book lovers make TikTok’s reviewing, discussing, or just waxing lyrical about the books they’ve read. I was really interested to see what young people enjoy reading nowadays, and it was really intriguing to see how the virality of BookTok essentially ensures an author’s success in the writing industry. A few books seemed to reign supreme as the ones which make up the foundation of the community. The five New Adult Romances that I saw the most are The American Roommate Experiment, The Hating Game, The Deal, The Kiss Quotient and The Love Hypothesis.
So, I decided to read them to see if they really are as good as people say they are.
A disclaimer: all of these books have on-page sexual content in them.
The American Roommate Experiment by Elena Armas
Armas’ debut novel The Spanish Love Deception was the book which went viral—not this. But, because of how popular it was, the rest of her novels achieved huge amounts of attention, including The American Roommate Experiment, which is the one I’ll be reviewing.
This novel follows the story of Rosalyn “Rosie” Graham and Lucas Martín. Rosie’s ceiling has just caved in, leaving a hole which looks up into the apartment of her upstairs neighbour. While she sorts that out, she decides to stay at her best friend’s apartment since said best friend is on her honeymoon. But when Rosie gets there, she encounters her best friend’s cousin who is travelling through the US and has also planned to crash in the apartment while he’s in the state so he doesn’t have to pay the hotel fees. Thus begins a story of forced proximity, fake dating and lots of overthinking.
I genuinely enjoyed this book. Armas has stepped up from her debut novel I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as this one. The writing in The American Roommate Experiment is tighter, flows easier and was a lot easier to settle into a rhythm of reading, but there were a few moments of awkward writing which pulled me out. It also helps that the novel is a dual point-of-view, which means readers get to see both sides of the story. It keeps the plot from getting bogged down by just one character narrating and prevents the reader from getting too bored. It’s also nice to know that both protagonists are equally as smitten with the other.
Rosie and Lucas have good chemistry and the romance is swoon-worthy. There were a few moments where I had to take a moment to breathe because of just how sweet the romance is. So, if you’re looking for a romantic, cheesy novel to kick off the warmer weather, this is the book!
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve only seen this book on TikTok because of the sex scenes. And a lot of people really like the steamy scenes in this. So, I wondered if it was actually a good book or if people were only reading it because of, well, the sex. As it turns out, I really liked this book—more than I thought I would. After reading a few books I really didn’t enjoy (which I will review in the latter part of this article), I needed a win, and this book is definitely a win!
The Kiss Quotient is about Stella Lane—an econometrician who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. She hasn’t had much experience with romance in her life, especially sexually, so she hires an escort named Michael Phan to help her develop her skills in the bedroom, to learn how she can enjoy sex. This then evolves into a deal where Michael helps her learn how to be in a relationship and to actually enjoy dating. Michael and Stella work well together, and the communication they have regarding their deal is really nice to see—especially when miscommunication is such a common trope in romance novels nowadays.
In the process of writing this novel, Hoang was able to receive her own autism diagnosis after copious amounts of research. Neurodivergent representation isn’t something I’ve often seen in romance novels (or in fiction, really) so it was really refreshing to see the romance develop between the two main characters, in a really heartwarming way.
It is, however, heavy on the sexual content by nature of the premise, so this might not be the book for you if you aren’t comfortable with that. If you are looking for something steamy to spice up your reading, then I would highly recommend this one.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Hazelwood’s debut novel actually went viral because it started off as a Star Wars fanfiction between Rey and Kylo Ren and was published on fanfiction site AO3. And that really intrigued me. Perhaps the most popular out of all the books listed here, The Love Hypothesis is considered the book to read if you want to start your romance journey. I believe that its popularity is well deserved.
Olive Smith is a biology PhD candidate who, in a dramatic turn of events, kisses Adam Carlsen to prove to her best friend that she’s going out and hitting the dating scene. The only issue is that Adam is a professor who is notorious for being a bit of a jerk—and has a penchant for making PhD students cry with his harsh feedback. Now, Olive hasn’t had much luck with love, but she’s suddenly found herself in a whirlwind fake relationship with Adam and this is all new territory for her.
It hits all the bases for a romance novel and is rife with situations where Olive and Adam have to act like they’re dating in front of everyone else (there was a little too much of this for my liking since I am an avid hater of PDA) but I can see why a lot of people would find it swoon-worthy. They do have a lot of… chemistry.
One thing I absolutely loved was how scientific it was. Hazelwood has experience in academia, and it shines through brilliantly—it was a great way to flesh out characters and make them feel like real people you could support. It was also a perfect way to make science puns about love. It’s supposed to be a little silly, and something you aren’t supposed to take very seriously—and if you do just that, I’m sure you’ll have a fun time reading this book.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
This novel is one of the most popular office romance enemies-to-lovers stories on BookTok. So popular, in fact, they even made a movie out of it. I couldn’t do a romance review article and not review this one. The Hating Game is about Lucinda “Lucy” Hutton and Joshua “Josh” Templeman who are sworn enemies. They sit opposite each other in the office and have an unspoken competition over who is the better worker.
Published in 2016, The Hating Game is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of Lucy and Josh’s interactions were funny—I could see that they liked each other, and they did have a few moments of genuine chemistry. But it’s outweighed by its negatives. Firstly, it is painfully gendered. She has pink Post-it notes on her desk, and he has blue Post-it notes on his. She has lipstick in her drawer, he has mints in his.
It also falls victim to the zeitgeist of the mid-2010s: the short woman and tall man trope. Every few pages, Lucy is described as tiny, short or petite. I don’t mind reading about a height difference in books, but the way Lucy kept being described as so small compared to Josh (for reference, she’s five feet tall) made her seem like an actual child and that was just uncomfortable. The characters are quite surface-level, partly because it’s only in Lucy’s point of view, but I ended the book not knowing much about Josh beyond the fact that he’s handsome, broad and tall.
There was also something about their hatred of each other that I didn’t really understand. They have a so-called rivalry, but it’s drummed up to be such a big thing when in reality, they’re just co-workers who complain way too much. I found myself thinking, “This entire story would unravel if they spoke normally for even five minutes.” and it would instantly take me out of the story.
I would say that there are better romance novels to read out there, and I’d skip over this one if you’re looking to explore romance for the first time.
The Deal by Elle Kennedy
I’ll be real here. The majority of TikTok’s I see about this book are about how good of a boyfriend the male love interest in this is. I just wanted to see if that was true or not (It’s not true.). If there’s one thing to take from this review, it is to not read this book. You’ll have a better time reading any other book in this review compared to this one. If you do decide to read this book, please check for triggers, since it discusses a few sensitive topics.
Self-published in 2015, the novel was launched into stardom by BookTok—lauding a steamy and witty sports romance between Hannah Wells and Garrett Graham; a book-ish girl and play-boy ice hockey player respectively. Garrett, who needs to retake a class to continue to play ice-hockey, tries to enlist Hannah as a tutor. In exchange, Hannah will receive a hefty sum of money and the chance to pretend-date Garrett to get the attention of another ice hockey player who she actually has a crush on.
From my research, the self-published version is even worse than the version I read—the traditionally published 2021 version—which clearly went through a few sensitivity reads.
Ranging from blatant slut-shaming to pick-me behaviour (there is an entire conversation between the main characters about how all the women Garrett has slept with only eat salads and are as thin as sticks—whereas Hannah can eat four whole slices of pizza.), the book just wasn’t pleasant to read. Any of the women who have slept with the boys on the hockey team are referred to as “whores”, “sluts” or “bimbos”. It’s ugly language and it wasn’t necessary. Kennedy’s dialogue is stilted and American slang is shoved wherever possible to try and convince the reader that the novel takes place at an American college. There are frat parties, copious references to sex and a very strange take on trauma and what it means to heal.
The most important thing when I read a romance novel is that I want the main characters to end up together. I did not want Hannah and Garrett to get together—I needed them to go to therapy. All in all, this is not a book I recommend anyone read.
So, those are the books. Strangely enough, all five of these novels feature some form of fake dating. I don’t know if that speaks to what people find romantic on TikTok—but when done well, it works a treat.
Hopefully, if you decide to read the ones I recommend, you’ll have as good a time as I did. And if you want to read the ones I didn’t like… I’ll keep you in my prayers.