I reviewed Hold Me when it first came out, I even put it on my best books of 2016 list. I’m reviewing it again because it deserves all the reviews, you should read it, and I have more to say about it.
When they first meet, Jay is an asshole to Maria. He makes assumptions based on her appearance and then refuses to back down, even when he knows he is being an ass. Maria has the confidence to stand up to Jay and dish it out herself. Saving Jay from being irredeemable is his pseudonymous online friendship with Maria. Yes, Maria anonymously writes a blog in which she thinks through disaster scenarios, and Jay is one of the commentors. They’ve developed a relationship and are halfway to being in love.
Jay, like a lot of men, thinks he’s a good guy, a feminist ally. He has a strong mother who is a leader in a STEM field, works comfortably with female colleagues, and supports his female graduate students. But his response to Maria reveals his internalized misogyny.
“I’m not the one you need to apologize to, anyway,” I tell him. “You know who you really messed with back there? Rachel.”
His eyes narrow. “Bullshit.”
“Because you just sent her a really clear message, Three Sigma. She’s going to wonder if you’ll turn on her if she shows up to lab looking nice because she has a date. She spent an hour and a half listening to you make fun of another Latina, and she was so upset that she left halfway through. She has to work with you. How is she ever supposed to trust you again?”
It’s not uncommon in romance to have an asshole hero. Love of a good woman softens him and makes him less of an asshole, or at least less of an asshole to the heroine. In Hold Me, it’s not good enough for Jay to be less of an asshole to Maria, he needs to be less of an asshole to all women. He is in a position of influence and authority, so his attitudes and behaviors can actively harm the very women he wants to support.
Milan writes lovely romances with snappy dialogue that are also unabashedly feminist. Romance, with it’s requisite happily ever after, is a wish fulfillment fantasy. I read several reviews of Hold Me that complained that Jay was too much of an asshole to be redeemed. That’s legitimate. I think though that they put the wish fulfillment in the wrong place. Those readers want a good guy who is a good guy, even if he’s a little awkward. Courtney Milan wants a guy who thinks he’s a good guy to recognize his problematic beliefs and work through the process of change, and she wants him to do this without a woman doing the emotional labor for him.
The string of emojis in the title of the review mean something. But you have to read the book to find out the significance. Hold Me is a book worth multiple reads. If you haven’t read it for the first time, you should get on that.
edit – initially I wrote a long review that brought in other Milan books that connected Courtney Milan’s experience with workplace sexual harassment to some of the themes in her books. After tying myself in knots trying to make one review all things, I decided to cut almost everything and focus on Hold Me. Pajiba posted an article today about a twitter interaction between Megan Ganz and Dan Harmon. Harmon was Ganz’ boss on Community. He was abusive and Ganz is refusing to forgive him. That expectation of absolution from a woman in exchange for a weak apology from a man is the very thing Milan was is rejecting here.