Reasons I picked up Mary Frame’s Imperfect Chemistry:
- I liked the cover
- It’s a New Adult romance and I haven’t read many of those
- The heroine was described as a genius with a PhD in microbiology
And I have a master’s in microbiology, so I guessed going in that there would be no lab work and no reading of J. Bac., because that’s not how you get a man. Sadly, I wasn’t prepared for just how ludicrous the portayal of researchers is in this novel. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The heroine, Lucy London, has received a grant to study emotion as a pathogen (a disease-causing agent). This is about as likely as Jane Goodall being paid to analyze King Kong movies because hey, monkeys. It makes no sense for anyone in science, least of all a microbiologist, but Lucy doesn’t acts or speak like an actual microbiologist, so whatever. Moving on. Her problem is that she doesn’t understand emotions, never having had any, so her research is stalling, and her mentor suggests she become open to new activities with other people.
“You think I should consume illicit substances and engage in unprotected sex?” I ask.
“No, Lucy, I just want you to experience life. You are a wonderful scientist, but you need to interact more. You need to understand how people tick, which can’t always be explained with logic and quantified by science.”
This is clearly a science department in Bizarroworld, so once again… moving on. I reminded myself that the plot couldn’t proceed without her mentor all but bursting into a life-affirming song like Climb Every Mountain. So Lucy decides to try experiencing emotions with her hot neighbor, Jensen Walker. Since her new friend Freya tells her he’s the campus Lothario, she sets out to borrow sugar, jimmy(!) his door locked so he’ll be forced to ask for her help, and so on.
The book is written from Lucy’s perspective, and I found her intensely off-putting. She speaks like a robot, takes everything literally, and spouts scientific facts (any science, because getting a PhD in one field somehow means you’re familiar with all of them). At first I thought she’d be fine for readers who can’t get enough of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, but at least Sheldon has his amusing moments and we’re not constantly in his head.
And she’s not even all that smart. When Jensen takes her to an art exhibit, the paintings she finds the least objectionable don’t have an artist’s name on them, but he seems pleased at her comments on them. I immediately knew he was the artist, but it took about a hundred pages for her to figure it out. No, wait, she never did. He had to show her his studio, and finally it sank in.
Jensen is something of a flatline. On the one hand, I like the fact that he’s not the typical tattooed bad boy hero so often found in NA romance. He’s actually a virgin, so how he got the campus-Lothario reputation is a mystery. But don’t worry, he’s the kind of virgin who knows exactly what to do and who gives Lucy an orgasm from penetration alone. That said, I did enjoy the author’s take on the penis size trope. It’s the most refreshing and funny moment in the book.
Unfortunately, another problem is the way the story describes gay men. One guy is a complete caricature – he squeals and giggles over the prospect of giving Lucy a makeover. And when another gay man shakes Jensen’s hand, Our Heroine is surprised that he does this “firmly and confidently”. Did she expect him to be limp-wristed?
There are also some subtle put-downs of women. When Lucy finally starts to experience romantic emotions, she thinks I’m turning into a girl. Because only women – excuse me, girls -have feels? And her growing friendship with Freya might have been fun if not for Freya assuring her that, “…you’re not competitive or jealous. So many girls are like that, in an underhanded and sneaky way.” She goes on to call such girls bitches, and I decided that if I want misogyny, I’ll read the news. I don’t need to pick up a romance novel for that.
Finally, I have no idea why the author gave Lucy a doctorate in microbiology rather than in psychology – which is far, far closer to this emotion-exploration project. But I suppose she had to act like the offspring of Mr. Spock and Ayn Rand at the start, and this wouldn’t have been possible if she was in a field that acknowledged human emotion. Whatever the reason, I can’t stand it when a career in science is equated with a complete lack of social skills, not to mention the idea that a woman’s life is somehow less if she prefers research to socializing.
So, who would enjoy Imperfect Chemistry? Readers who…
- Want NA romance badly enough to overlook the story’s flaws
- Always hoped to find a heroine who would fail the Turing Test
- Have never heard of microbiologists in any capacity
Everyone else would be better off with another book.