Penny Reid’s ongoing series about sexy physicists and the love they make continues apace with this very charming but also frustrating (hey, the author warned us it would be!) story about a physicist who never gets to have fun and the musician friend who tries to unwind her.
Mona is a totally rational, completely well-ordered genius – something people tend not to expect from the daughter of two musicians named Exotica and DJ Tang. She graduated high school at fifteen and now, at nineteen, is planning on beginning her PhD program, hopefully at Caltech, where she hopes to blend in – something that’s, obviously, been impossible for her before (see: famous parents with odd names). She knows too well what the wages of doing anything but staying buried in her books can do – she’s seen the effect of taking the opposing path up close.
Example one. Her twin sister, Lisa, is a party-hearty socialite who dropped out of high school, acquired a drug and alcohol habit, and got into a messy relationship with a member of a semi-famous band called Pirate Orgy while Mona was breezing through college. Lisa is constantly in trouble that Mona finds herself having to bail her out of. Example two. Lisa calls Mona when she’s in the middle of an important meeting and begs her to travel to Chicago ASAP to impersonate her (Lisa) at the family home until Lisa can wiggle free of her week long imprisonment for something very serious elsewhere. If Mona doesn’t get there before their parents return, Lisa’s trust fund will be cut off, leaving her to her own barely-together devices.
Mona does love her twin, and she still feels guilty about snitching on her , aged eleven, for some secret drinking (ugh) and for not writing Lisa back when Lisa was imprisoned in boarding school, so she does think she owes her one. Mona puts herself at the mercy of Gabby – her ex-best friend and Lisa’s current best friend and partner in said childhood drinking escapade – who will act as a makeover artist and sidekick to get her through the two weeks until her parents show up at home and the one week until Lisa gets free. Mona’s impersonation act is for the benefit of Abram, a family friend who happens to be watching their house as a favor to the girls’ brother, Leo. For most of her childhood, Abram lived just outside of Mona’s social circle – the talented musician she barely remembers.
Mona almost instantly fails to successfully impersonate Lisa, especially when she and Gabby are separated. Fortunately, Abram finds her charming, his interest in biology kind of gels with her interest in physics, and soon she’s feeling butterflies while trying to avoid him. Abram’s attitude challenges her orderliness, her conservative attitude and her dislike of being touched at every turn, and they begin to fall for one another – but is he in love with Lisa, or is he in love with the Mona underneath the façade? Mona will have to figure that one out quickly, because she’s soon placed in double jeopardy, as her one-time guardian, Doctor Steward, will be arriving soon after Lisa’s terms of imprisonment end. The twins will have to be quick if they want to pull this switcheroo off – and to figure out who really belongs with whom.
Motion is generally silly – the good kind of silly, the kind that will get you laughing around eighty percent of the time. The couple chemistry between the principals pulls through most of the time, although that doesn’t really make up for some of the contrivances that pop up.
Mona is very sympathetic, bobbing on the surface of her sitcom life and trying to grasp hold and maintain her equilibrium while fighting against the ridiculousness around her. Her braininess contrasts with her lack of social acumen, which makes her journey through the stuff she’s missed by concentrating on her interior life quite a bit of fun to read. But I have a hard time believing that Mona – who was traumatized by a very specific incident in her teen years involving restraint which has made her touch avoidant – would suddenly turn into an enthusiastic wannabe rope bunny at Abram’s hands, much less liking it more when he touches her without permission.
Abram and Mona’s relationship is a classic mind-versus-body connection, and has a million bodyguard tropes and overlays. Abram comes off as a package of character traits though, while Mona feels fully fleshed out. Perhaps because we stay fully within her PoV it’s hard to fully see Abram, but I very much liked them when they’re connecting over ambergris and chocolate doughnuts.
Lisa and Mona’s story is one of a classic sibling rivalry – sweet twin versus ‘naughty’ twin, complete with parents who valorize Mona and ignore Lisa unless she’s in trouble. I found Lisa’s story a little more complex and interesting than Mona’s, because who doesn’t like watching a tarnished star redeem herself? Which will be very hard, considering the things she’s done to Mona throughout their lives and childhoods. Which brings me to Mona’s friendship with Gabby, which is hilarious and letter-perfect and one of the book’s most entertaining points.
The story has a sizable weakness, and it’s this: there are a lot of unfortunate contrivances that pop up to move the plot along and place Mona on Abram’s junk. A sampling: the only time Lisa and Abram have ever seen one another was when Lisa was naked, so naturally Mona has to skinny dip with him. Or when the two of them, in a multi-floor mansion, accidentally end up in the same bed. Or how Abram’s sister is a journalist who could blow Lisa’s cover because he insists on dragging Mona along to his mother’s birthday party in the ‘burbs, and so on.
And while you’re warned about the novel’s cliffhanger being a doozy, the way the novella is sliced straight in half absolutely makes it feel half-formed, half-finished.
Ultimately, Motion is good old fashioned emotional junk food. Sometimes you just want that delicious, sloppy, greasy pile of chilli cheese fries.