Lorelei Parker is a new-to-me author, and the blurb for Crushing It sounded interesting. I’m not into gaming, but I liked the premise and thought I might enjoy it. Friends, I still think this idea – if well executed, could make for a great rom com. Unfortunately, beyond the set-up, nothing about this book is fresh or original, and as the novel progresses, it’s a straight downhill trajectory; by the last page I just wanted it to be Game Over.
Smart, confident and talented. Sierra Reid is a game developer, and part owner of Extinction Level Event Game Designs (ELEGD), a video game development company. She loves her work, and spends her days at the office alongside co-owner/best friend Aida Vargas, and evenings at home with Aida and Aida’s husband Marco (another co-worker) in the town house they co-own in a hip, desirable Atlanta suburb. Instead of moving out when Marco moved in, Sierra relocated to the basement, but she suspects that with the imminent arrival of baby Vargas, they’ll have to revisit the arrangement again. Sierra hasn’t had much luck finding her own happily ever after, and prefers one night stands to relationships or actual emotional intimacy.
When Crushing It begins, Sierra has just failed to pitch their latest MMORPG (massively multiplayer online video game), Castle Capture, to her test audience of Aida, Marco, and Reynold, their hands-on private investor. Reynold manages the money and the business strategy, and he’s eager for the company to turn a bigger profit. Sierra thinks Castle Capture could be a major hit, but ELEGD’s plan to introduce it to gamers and investors at Gamescon, a large European convention, has hit a snag. Aida, their usual pitch-person, is due to deliver any day. Sierra is seemingly the next best choice, except she’s terrified of speaking in public. After a horrifying public speaking experience in college, she’s managed to bungle or mortify herself at every opportunity since then, and after this failed trial run, all signs point to another disaster.
Aida is sympathetic, and she wants to help. She encourages Sierra to enter the Chagrin Challenge, a contest at a new local bar that pits contestants against one another as they reveal their most embarrassing experiences. She’ll get practice speaking in public, share embarrassing stories with a bunch of other people sharing their own mortifying history, and possibly win $1,000. Aida convinces Sierra to go to the bar, but she nearly flees the scene before her name can be called. Alfie, the owner of the bar and a former college acquaintance she can’t remember, encourages her to get on the stage and give it a try. His quiet support gives her the confidence to go for it. Reading a page from a college journal she kept for one of her classes, she reveals the unrequited, cringe-inducing crush she had on fellow student Tristan Spencer. He barely registered her existence, but it didn’t keep her from crushing on him hard or writing about it in flowery prose never meant to be seen by anyone but herself. Caught up in the moment, Sierra barely registers the audience laughing along, and she’s exhilarated as she exits the stage…until she hears the announcer name the next contestant. Tristan Spencer. Cue the cringe.
Friends, I loved this set-up. Plausible, funny, mortifying… and even though the journal entry wasn’t that funny or even really that embarrassing, I looked forward to what came next. Unfortunately, what came next was terrible. The clunky exposition, unlikeable secondary characters, and awkward, unfunny dialogue I was willing to overlook as the story got underway, eventually sabotages it.
Tristan, to no one’s surprise, is thrilled to learn about Sierra’s crush; Sierra is thrilled he’s finally noticing her. She ignores the fact that he calls her Sara, and dismisses the fact that he’s the reason she’s terrified of speaking in public (the author vaguely alludes to something terrible he did to her in college). He asks Sara out, and spends their date talking about his talent as a graphic designer (uh oh) and his rejection at ELEDG; he gives her a ride on his moped (because his car is in the shop), and is vague about what he does for a living. Reader, it’s obvious to EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON EARTH EXCEPT SUPER SMART AND BRIGHT AND CONFIDENT Sierra, that he’s a user and a loser, but we’re supposed to pretend we don’t see it. Sierra/Sara probably misses it because she’s preoccupied by the arrival of her period, and we are too, because the author spends nearly a full chapter detailing her search for a sanitary napkin and then describing the one she finally uses. Um, the whole thing was gross. And WHY GOD WHY did I need to read about this??!!
Sierra slowly but surely realizes Tristan is a dud, just as she (conveniently) begins to notice how sweet and kind Alfie is – and to wonder why she never paid attention to him in school. Pot, meet kettle. Alfie is supportive, kind and awesome and SUPER OBVIOUSLY INTO SIERRA WHO DOESN’T REMEMBER HIM AT ALL EVEN THOUGH THEY MET SEVERAL TIMES. Look, I liked the idea of Sierra at the start of this story, but her obliviousness grows old fast. Sierra makes a blink and you’ll miss it, transfer of affection from Tristan (The Jerk) to Alfie (The Soulmate), and we’re all supposed to pretend that’s totally normal. She obsessively compares her new feelings for Alfie with the ones she had for Tristan, constantly questioning whether it’s Eros, Philia, or Agape she’s feeling. Huh? Her mother once told her these are the three types of love, and… READER, NO ONE CARES. I have no idea why the author kept bringing this up every five pages or so.
The Chagrin Challenge, with its cookie-cutter contestants and alternately painful, cringe inducing, and unfunny anecdotes, could and should have been hilarious. Instead, Parker uses it as a prop to advance the narrative and her agenda with these three characters, and it’s such a wasted opportunity! Even the potential love triangle had promise, but unfortunately, there’s nothing nuanced about Parker’s characterization of either man vying for Sierra’s attention – Tristan is a villain, and Alfie is a saint. I hated the misogynistic venture capitalist; I struggled to buy into the bar owner who can take nights off and escape to his upstairs lair whenever he feels like it, and even the big revelation about Sierra’s public speaking nightmare is totally underwhelming. And the sex scenes. Oh dear. We’ve got waterfalls, rainbows, galaxies and solar systems, and major orgasms. Um. What? Friends, it’s all too much. Parker takes her oh-so promising premise and crushes it with poor dialogue, underdeveloped characters and stock secondary archetypes, unfunny anecdotes and scenes, and a heroine who can’t recognize a hero – even when he’s right in front of her – in her own game of life.
Crushing It crushed me. It had such great promise, but the execution is poor. And one last nitpick: after all the colorful descriptions of Sierra’s quirky gaming t-shirts and video game themed skirts and dresses, the cover is a total fail.