REVIEW: Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
Dear Christina Lauren,
I had so much fun reading this book! And most of that fun was Hazel Camille Bradford. I’m a hero-centric reader but Hazel was just so awesome that she jumped off the pages and right into my heart. There were many great things about Josh, don’t get me wrong. I loved him too. But the best thing about Josh? That he loved Hazel – just as she was.
Hazel is a trip. She does everything big. She’s vibrant and wild and open and she has no filter. She is loyal and funny. She is not quiet. It is impossible to ignore her. Many people Hazel has met are exhausted and embarrassed by her. But she knows herself and is comfortable with who she is. She will not conform to fit in even though she gets bruised and hurt by the rejections she experiences.
“I realize that finding the perfect person isn’t going to be easy for me because I’m a lot to take,” she says, “but I’m not going to change just so that I’m more datable.”
Shifting the car into drive, I chance a glance over at her. “You’re awfully hung up on your position on the datable scale.”
“I’ve learned to be,” she says, and then pauses for a moment. “Do you know how many guys like to date the cute wild girl for a few weeks before expecting me to chill a little and become more Regular Girlfriend?”
I shrug. I can sort of imagine what she’s saying.
“But at the end of the day,” she says, and puts her hand outside the open window, letting the wind pass through her fingers, “being myself is enough. I’m enough.”
She’s not saying it to convince me, or even herself; she’s already there.
I admired her so much.
The opening of the book is when Hazel is describing her various embarrassing encounters with Josh Im, a handsome Korean-American man with whom she went to college. Hazel never dared dream he could be a romantic partner for her but he was her ideal of perfection in man form and she just knew they were destined to be best friends. It took more than seven years for Josh to agree with this suggestion and even then it only happened because Hazel steamrollered over him with her enthusiasm. (There was no lack of consent – Josh is a big boy and had he really wanted to he could have avoided the Hazel-train.)
The way Emily describes it: when I meet someone I love, I become an octopus and wind my tentacles around their heart, tighter and tighter until they can’t deny they love me just the same.
Emily is Hazel’s other best friend and, as it turns out, Josh’s sister. Hazel and Emily are both grade school (what we in Australia would call primary school) teachers and Hazel has just landed a new job at the school where Emily teaches and where Emily’s husband, Dave, is the Principal. Hazel is delighted to learn that Josh and Emily are related and when she meets up with Josh again at a party, she is determined that this time they will indeed be best friends.
At first, Josh is horrified. This is the woman who threw up on his shoes at their first meeting. Hazel is kind of a cyclone and Josh is not at all sure he wants to get caught up.
I am now alone with Josh Im. He studies me like he’s looking at something infectious through a microscope.
“I always thought I caught you in . . . a phase.” His left eyebrow makes a fancy arch. “Apparently you’re just like this.”
“I feel like I have a lot to apologize for,” I admit, “but I can’t be sure I won’t be constantly exasperating you, so maybe I’ll just wait until we’re elderly.”
Half of his mouth turns up. “I can say without question I’ve honestly never known anyone else like you.”
“So completely undatable?”
Josh is kind of Greg to Hazel’s Dharma (although the analogy is far from perfect). He starts off a bit uptight and straight-laced. I related to him actually and his deadpan delivery made me laugh.
She gives me a thoughtful frown. “I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if clothes were never invented.”
“I literally never wonder that.”
Certainly Josh will never be as flamboyant as Hazel but he does loosen up over the course of the book and he actively appreciates the wondrous beauty of Hazel Camille Bradford.
When Josh and Hazel reconnect, Josh is in a long distance relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Tabby. Hazel’s intention is to be Josh’s friend. And because Josh has a lot of free social time because his girlfriend is in another state, spending time Hazel is a safe space for him to have some platonic fun. When Hazel’s apartment is flooded, she ends up moving in with Josh temporarily because reasons and their friendship develops further. And, after Josh and Tabby end things, Hazel comes up with a plan for them to go on a series of double blind dates – Hazel will fix Josh up with someone and vice versa and they will all go out on a double date, partly in a quest to actually meet someone but partly just to get Josh out of his comfort zone a little and do something different. As it happens, it turns out to be mostly about Josh and Hazel having more excuses to spend time together (but we romance readers can see that coming a mile away).
Some of the dates are disasters. Some of the options they come up with for each other are perhaps not well-considered. But some look pretty good at least on paper.
“You have a veterinarian friend with ponies and you’re just now telling me about him? An imaginary talking badger has taken back second place in the best friend hierarchy.”
The story is told from the alternative first person POVs of both Josh and Hazel. Their sections are quite different. Hazel is much more out there than Josh and this is reflected in her sections of the book. In dual first person books, it is not uncommon for a reader to see very little difference in each perspective but here the characters are distinctly different, each likeable and sympathetic in their own way. Apart from the very beginning, Josh is very much Team Hazel and he does not try to change her. Even so, every now and then Hazel has to school him a little and, once again, I loved how comfortable she was in her own skin – comfortable enough to advocate for herself freely. I had Hazel-envy.
He takes another drink, a bigger one this time, draining it with a long swallow. “Your turn.”
“Me?” I honestly have no idea how many guys I’ve been with, so I pull a lowball number out of the air. “Maybe twenty.”
His eyes go wide and he coughs as he swallows. “Twenty?”
“Actually probably more? Let’s say thirty.”
Josh shakes his head and laughs. “Wow, okay.”
This response is not an improvement.
“Don’t do that.” I point a finger at him. “Don’t act like I’ve crossed some magical threshold of appropriate numbers for a woman. If I was a dude and said that, you’d reply, ‘In high school, right?’ and then high-five me and call me brah.”
I drain my drink, too, and he watches, looking both amused and chastened.
Of course, this is a romance and so Josh and Hazel do stray well outside the friend zone one night when they’re both drunk enough to let something happen (but sober enough to know what they’re doing). What starts as a bit of a hormonal frenzy becomes more meaningful however because they already do have deep feelings for one another.
But as soon as he says this, his hands come to my face and his mouth comes over mine and it’s intense, just the way I always dreamed it might be, to kiss someone I love so deeply already and who’s seen me exactly as I am.
They agree it would be a one time thing but getting back to “normal” is a challenge.
I haven’t seen Josh in three days, but we’ve been texting on and off like before, about nothing in particular. Today, I told him how Winnie barked and it sounded like she said “Gimme!” He replied that his chicken salad sandwich had too much mayo. I told him I found a perfect new bikini to wear on our Diarrhea Cruise next spring. He told me not to mention diarrhea after he just ate too much mayo.
Just this section gave me all the feels. It also reminded me of the silly email conversations my (now) husband and I used to have when we first started seeing each other (we worked together and mobile phones weren’t a big thing back then so email – at work – and actual phone calls it was). There is something about this little paragraph which felt so authentic. I believed in Josh and Hazel before they did.
As much as I admired and adored Hazel I probably related to Josh the most. He’s more like me.
I also enjoyed Hazel’s relationship with her mother – someone just as out there as Hazel is – and the other friendships – Dave, Emily – in the book too.
Right near the end, there were three things I feared were going to happen and I was delighted when none of them did. The opportunities for manufactured drama and angst at the end were not taken and with at least two of the things I was nervous about, you showed instead just how perfect Josh and Hazel were for each other and cemented my belief in Josh being a Good Guy (TM).
There is a bit of them not being completely honest with each other about their feelings after they have sex the first time but for me it quite didn’t fall into “big mis” territory. It felt true to the characters that they would act that way – even Hazel. Hazel adores Josh but she had never contemplated he could actually love her in a romantic way. And for her, the risk of losing him from her life altogether was too great at first. That made sense. Josh, for his part, is more careful and cautious and he wasn’t going to put himself out there without a push. While that also made sense he was just a little too self-effacing that one time and both of them paid for it.
In chapter one, there is a lighthearted reference to Dave – whose surname is Goldrich – as being a “shyster” and I thought that wasn’t cool. It only happened the once and I didn’t feel it was indicative of the rest of the book but my understanding is that the word is an anti-Semitic slur and I’d have much preferred it to not have been used.
The ending was perfect. If there had been any doubt in my mind (there wasn’t) that Josh would ever get tired of Hazel’s personality or that he would ever try and change her, it was put to rest and I knew that their HEA was rock-solid.
Friends have been telling me to read your books for ages now. Even though I have a number of your books on my TBR (of Doom) this is the first one I’ve actually managed – and now that I know what I’ve been missing I plan to carve out some time to read more from you.