Jackie Lau, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-7753047-1-5
Contemporary Romance, 2018
Our hero Julian Fong is so adorably typical as an overachieving Chinese that I can’t help but to be charmed. He’s the eldest son, and hence the responsible workaholic groomed to take over the father’s business, which he has done so with great aplomb when the story begins. No parties, no fun… I mean, sure, he may seem like an unhappy person, but he’s actually fine, thank you very much. He has a lot of money, he is hot, and he can buy all the weed in Canada if he ever wishes to do so. Yes, Mr. Hotshot CEO here is exactly like that Chinese eldest son in every zealous, success-oriented Chinese family ever. Minus the millions and the looks most of the time, of course.
Only, Julian’s parents have a change of mindset after the father survived a heart attack. Instead of not only screeching at the son for not having married and popped out grandchildren yet, Julian’s mother and grandmother now insist that he is working his way to a heart attack too, just like his father. The two women decide to take control and basically force Julian to take a two-week leave. If he refuses, there will be hell to pay.
On the other side of town, heroine Courtney Kwan is a researcher with little money. That’s to be expected. If you don’t have a Y chromosome, you are automatically incapable of holding on to money. Our heroine also has depression – the real deal, mind you, not the “Oh, I think I am depressed because I am a special snowflake!” malarkey those idiots on Tumblr and Twitter like to brag about having. All available medications fail to help her, and… apparently every mental health professional in town has given up on her? I think that’s it, as she keeps wailing about how nobody in the medical profession else can help her, so oh, oh, oh. And here I am thinking that I have heard good things about the Canadian healthcare system, ugh.
Anyway, she senses that a relapse is about to hit her, so she decides that a trip to New York City with her sister will work wonders in helping her cope. Alas, her sister has money problems, and somehow she can’t ask her boyfriend for a loan even if that man is a bestselling author loaded with the moolah, so yes, the loving sister decides that Courtney will just have to somehow cheer herself up on her own. A chance meeting with Julian has him deciding that she’s so boinkable and adorable, so he offers her five thousand Canadian dollars to stay with him for the two weeks and cheer him up. Oh, and he’d also like to have sex with her, but she can say no and he’ll totally respect that, because this is the current year as the Prime Minister of that country loves to say and it’s perfectly fine to pay for a woman’s time as long as the sex as a freebie. Or something.
Courtney is like, oh, five grand can help fix her sister’s car and get the two of them to New York City so why not? Plus he’s so hot, and she’d totally give him a freebie sex or ten, but alas, she has depression and that one guy dumped her when he couldn’t stand having to deal with her episodes, so she can never be loved or sexed up or whatever EVER so no, no, no until… wait, the story’s ending? Okay then.
Now, I don’t know what the exact exchange rate is, and maybe the Canadian dollar is so huge that five grand of that currency can set a depressed woman up for life, but come on! That man is loaded. Five grand! That may fly in Cambodia or Vietnam, but if I were her, some high-class hookers earn that much in a few days, so Julian has better cough up at least twenty grand or settle for his left hand for company.
And come on, what kind of plot is that? I know enough socially awkward workaholic eldest sons – hello, Chinese here – and I tell you, none of them will offer money to strange women for this kind of thing without at least weird sex involving unconventional orifices and some whips or two thrown into the mix. The author is going for a fantasy vibe here, and she even name drops Pretty Woman for good measure, but this is the current year, and I’d think the author can do more to make the premise seem less outlandish. Come to think of it, I think the story would have been a more organic, believable read if it had been just Courtney and Julian dating and she trying to keep her depression from him.
This brings me to another issue I have with this story: the depression thing. Depression is a very real, serious problem that is at the same time still misunderstood by many. Oh, the author says all the right things here – Mr. Hotshot CEO checks off all the items on the Depression PSA 101 list. It’s not about being weak or unable to cope with problems. People with depression need love and support. And so forth. I have nothing against the PSA. In fact, I’m all for it. I know people with depression in real life – up close and personal – and I understand very well how coping with it can be a day-to-day struggle.
At the same time, I also can’t help but to notice that Courtney’s depression only exists in two time frames: the past and the future. The author tells me all the worthy, good-to-know things about depression via Courtney’s constant lament about how she is forever incapable of having a long-term relationship, but at the same time, Courtney seems functional well enough throughout the entire story. Even as she keeps telling me how she can’t have sex without it causing her emotions to go upside down, she’s having great sex with Julian. As she laments about how in the past she had to be put on suicide watch, at the present she is having a fairy tale romance experience with Justin. In other words, the author wants a heroine who has depression, but she also doesn’t want the harsh and more frustrating aspects of being someone with depression to intrude into the relationship development in any significant way. Well, other than depression being a reason for Courtney to keep pouring on the angst, of course.
Worse, the take home message here inadvertently verges on dependency instead of self-care. Yes, Courtney’s depression doesn’t magically go away once a wealthy hot guy enters her life and refuses to go away, but she also talks about how she can handle her depression better now that she has a boyfriend by her side. Come on, what kind of silly, overly simplistic message is that? Also, the author keeps Julian in the dark for too long for his “support” to be believable. I mean, he doesn’t fully know how terrifying it can be to see someone you love has depressive episodes. Honesty is a very important trait in managing depression, as depression draws out dark and disturbing emotions that can tear apart even the strongest love story, and Julian claims that he will stick by her… but I don’t get this impression that he knows what he is really getting himself into. Thus, I don’t think these two have reached a certain stage of honesty to successfully navigate the road to a happily ever after. Seriously, a workaholic and a person with depression who doesn’t respond well to all current treatment options – good luck with that!
Then again, I suppose it doesn’t hurt for her to shack up with a man who can buy her any medication or treatment regardless of the cost, as well as anything else to make her happy.
Yes, I know, maybe romance novels don’t need to be so “real”. Here, though, depression is portrayed in an unrealistically tidy, compartmentalized manner that never really challenges in the budding romance. Despite the heroine giving some lip service to self-care, I don’t see her doing anything here other than to whine and complain while enjoying everything Julian has to give her. Hence, plot device. Why even include depression in the first place, then?
On one hand, I’m glad the author doesn’t blow up depression into some kind of cheap melodrama for tears and angst, like how so many authors treat sexual abuse these days in their new adult stories, but on the other hand, I feel that she has also downplayed the messier and less romantic aspects of depression a little too much. Either way, Mr. Hotshot CEO still has a whiff of exploitation of a genuine issue to pad a romance novel as a result.
The writing is rock solid, though, hence the three oogies score instead of two. Regardless of how I feel about this one, I’m definitely interested to see what else the author has to offer.