front cover of the novel The Love Hypothesis
Ali Hazelwood
Publisher: Jove/Berkley, copyright 2021
Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages (376 with end matter)
Genre: Buddy Love

It’s the Month of Love, so how could I pass up the opportunity to highlight a novel that’s not only romantic but one that plays so humorously with rom-com tropes? The Love Hypothesis was an Instant New York Times Bestseller, an “Editors’ Pick” in Best Romance with nearly 55K reviews on Amazon, a BuzzFeed Best Summer Read of 2021, and it’s garnered tons of accolades, including a mention on The View and a Goodreads Choice Award nomination.

For me, as both a huge fan of contemporary romance and, also, the daughter of a retired scientist, this charming novel was right up my nerdy-bookworm/science-geek ally. Ali Hazelwood clearly enjoyed creating these characters, and their delightful dialogue made the book worth its weight in one of the Period Table’s precious elements. (I can almost hear you all yelling out the symbol Au, right?)

From the publisher:

When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman’s carefully calculated theories on love into chaos.

As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships—but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor—and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

The Love Hypothesis is pure, lighthearted fun. Here’s my take on Blake Snyder’s 15 beats for this fast-paced and romantic read:

Opening Image (pp. 1-8): Prologue—Biology Ph.D. candidate Olive Smith is having an issue with her contact lenses in a Stanford University lab bathroom. She came to campus for the purpose of interviewing for a position as a grad student, but the eye problem keeps her from being able to see The Guy who comes in. Eventually, he asks her why she wants to pursue graduate studies, and the answer she gives him is an honest one: She has a burning research question she needs to answer. The mystery man’s reassuring response to this is, ultimately, what encourages her to accept the offered spot at Stanford.

Set-Up (pp. 9-50): Almost 3 years later, Olive keeps busy doing research on the early detection of pancreatic cancer, which readers later learn is the disease that killed her mother when Olive was a teen. But Olive’s studies are not her biggest problem at the moment. Her best friend Anh Pham has a crush on a fellow student that Olive dated briefly, and Olive desperately wants her BFF to be happy and go out with this man. Unfortunately, Anh’s tremendous loyalty won’t allow her to date him (because: “Girl Code”), so Olive sets out to prove to her dear friend that she’s deep into a relationship with some other man… even though she’s not.

Thus, when Olive sees Anh coming into the lab (after Olive lied and told Anh that she was going out on a date with her new boyfriend), Olive frantically and rather awkwardly kisses the first guy she encounters—a hotshot bio professor named Dr. Adam Carlsen, known for his moodiness, obnoxiousness, arrogance… and, well, for good looks and his scientific genius, too.

Let’s just say that Adam is extremely surprised by the kissing charade but, after hearing Olive stutter out her explanation and recognizing her behavior was based on good intentions toward her friend, Adam decides not to tell Anh on her or, for that matter, file a sexual harassment suit against her. Olive is grateful, but wary. Dr. Adam Carlsen, though not one of her advisers, is known throughout the department as a mean-spirited jerk whose criticisms make other grad students weep, including another one of Olive’s good friends, her roommate Malcolm.

Theme Stated (p. 33): This novel is all about loyalty, commitment, and friends who are like family. Anh tells Olive: “I am here for you, and always will be, no matter what.” This story revolves around a collection of loners who’ve rarely felt like they’d belonged, but now they have each other, and they’ll protect one another fiercely.

Catalyst (p. 43): Adam suggests that he and Olive keep up the pretense of dating each other. Olive is understandably surprised and asks him why he’d agree to such a plan. He explains that he needs his research funding to stay intact. The powers that be at the university reportedly consider him a “flight risk” because he’s still single, his family lives out East, and other institutions (like Harvard) have been courting him. He wants to stay at Stanford and he wants all of the financial resources available to him.

Debate (pp. 43-54): This charade is probably going to get Olive into even more trouble. Should she go on with it for Anh’s sake? Olive asks Adam if she can think about his proposal, but she rationalizes that the arrangement might help them both.

Break into Two (pp. 54-61): Olive goes into Adam’s office and formally agrees to his proposal, after laying down some ground rules. In the eyes of the entire biology department, they’re “together,” and everyone Olive knows starts looking at her with suspicion.

B Story (p. 68): As a romance, fake-dating goofiness aside, there will be a genuine, slow-build love story between these quirky protagonists. Being that Olive and Adam are two scientists, research is a huge component of their interactions. Tom Benton is a character who’ll soon arrive on the scene and will impact Olive and Adam’s burgeoning relationship in a big way. Tom is an old buddy of Adam’s from his grad-school days at Harvard. For Olive, Tom is someone she only knows via email. She applied to work at his lab to continue her pancreatic cancer research, but she’s initially unaware that her pretend boyfriend and her potential new lab boss are so well acquainted with each other.

Fun and Games (pp. 68-157): Although Adam has a rep for being handsome, Olive is surprised to discover that she truly finds him attractive. She’s rarely drawn like this to anyone. They set up “Fake-Dating Wednesday” coffee dates and both unexpectedly come to enjoy one another’s company. The promise of the premise is in full swing. After much snappy banter over beverages, arguing via text message, break room conversations at the lab, and even a department picnic, Olive feels closer to Adam than she’s ever felt toward anyone.

She meets Tom Benton in person, who’s flown from Boston to California for a few days. Though she’d already set up an interview with Tom regarding her research before she knew he and Adam were friends, Tom not only considers her proposal, he seems delighted to finally meet “Adam’s girlfriend.”

Midpoint (pp. 157-178): Sex at 60 in this case, and with this particular pair, isn’t about big physical displays of affection but, rather, about genuine intimacy. The two of them spontaneously hold hands… for real. Based on a few things Adam has said, Olive is stunned to realize that he was, in fact, The Guy in the bathroom three years ago. She learns from Tom that she got the Harvard lab gig for next year that she’d desperately wanted (false victory). Over coffee, she also confesses to her friend/roommate Malcolm that she’s falling in love with Adam.

Bad Guys Close In (pp. 178-228): Unfortunately, this is the very moment when Adam walks into the coffee shop for their weekly “Fake-Date” and overhears that Olive is in love with someone. She doesn’t want Adam to know that it’s him—she fears it’ll make him feel trapped and that he might think she planned all of this—so she foolishly pretends her feelings are for someone else.

She and Adam had originally made a pact that their pretend relationship would end on the 29th of September, once Anh was convinced Olive didn’t have feelings for the guy Anh liked and Adam’s university funding had been secured. Just prior to this date, there’s a big biology conference out in Boston, and Olive, along with all of her friends, have long been planning on attending it.

Much to Olive’s surprise and dismay, her paper is selected for an actual talk, not merely the usual displaying of a poster, like most of the grad students. Though everyone is congratulating her on this achievement, a formal talk is a particular problem for Olive because she loathes public speaking and is panicked by the thought of presenting her work live. Tom is going to be part of the panel, too, and Adam is going to be at the conference as well—as the keynote speaker no less.

Since Olive hasn’t booked a room early enough to stay at the conference hotel, Adam offers to let her stay in his hotel room with him. He insists there will be two beds, not one, unlike the hijinks in the rom-coms Olive has come to expect. And Malcolm, who’s had a crush on another professor named Holden, is glad that he’ll also be in Boston at the conference.

Among other things, Olive discovers that Holden and Adam have known each other for even longer than Adam and Tom, and that they’ve been friends since childhood. All three of them—Adam, Holden, and Tom—were at Harvard together. Holden pulls Olive aside prior to her presentation and tells her to “watch her back” with Tom. And more surprisingly, to “watch Adam’s back, too.”

All Is Lost (pp. 228-232): Despite Olive’s fears that she would totally mess up her talk, she does quite well, even remembering to record the presentation on her phone for her adviser back at Stanford, who’d requested a copy. Once the audience and other panel members have filtered out of the auditorium, however, Tom returns and corners Olive. He tries to kiss her. When she recoils and tells him to stop it, he says he only accepted her into his lab next year because she was pretty, not because her work was good. And that he knows she slept with Adam to get ahead.

Tom is confident she’ll sleep with him, too, for the same reason. Even if she doesn’t, he snidely says he has all of her research protocols (which she’d explained to him when she applied to work at his lab) and he could replicate her experiments next year without her and, essentially, take credit for her work. Olive flees from Tom and runs back to Adam’s hotel room.

Dark Night of the Soul (pp. 232-237): Alone in the room, Olive sobs. She cannot tell Adam about Tom’s humiliating behavior. She thinks there is no way he’d believe her word over that of a longtime friend, and the two men have been working together on a new project, which she fears ruining. Adam had even been talking about relocating to Harvard the following year to work more closely with Tom, but Olive now knows that she can’t come to Boston to work in Tom’s lab. She doesn’t have a university lab where she can continue her research, and she soon won’t have Adam nearby either.

Also, it’s almost September 29th. She and Adam were supposed to break up this weekend, according to their agreement. He returns to the room to find her crying. Although Olive doesn’t divulge the real reason why, Adam wants to do something to make her feel better, so he tells her they’re going out.

Break into Three (p. 238): Holding hands, Adam and Olive go to dinner. Everyone who is anyone at the conference sees them together.

Finale (pp. 238-349): Olive must regroup and figure out a new way to protect the people she cares about, but first, she needs to demonstrate to Adam her true affection for him. They kiss—really kiss. And they have sex, too, which is a sexual breakthrough for Olive. However, she’s aware that he’s in the process of interviewing formally for a position at Harvard, so he can be near Tom. She doesn’t want him to feel tied to her, since she knows she won’t be in Boston next year herself, so she follows through on the breakup… for his own good. But she’s heartbroken at having to let Adam go.

Up until this point, no one else is aware of what Tom had done. But Olive has been gathering her team, and her friends soon come to the rescue. When Anh and Malcolm accidentally hear the post-panel recording of what Tom said, which Olive had inadvertently taped along with her presentation, they fly into action. Turns out that Malcolm had hooked up with hot prof Holden, and Holden is able to give Olive advice. He stresses to her how important it is to present this damaging information about Tom to Adam.

As a result, Olive manages to intercept Adam during his interview and, even though Tom jumps in and tries to interrupt, Olive plays the recording of what Tom had said to her. It’s irrefutable proof of Tom’s true character. Adam lunges at Tom, but Olive’s voice pulls him away. She tells Adam that Tom’s not worth it. She doesn’t want him to have to deal with the consequences of assaulting someone, however much Tom deserves it. Adam tells her to send him a copy of the recording and, underscoring the novel’s themes of loyalty, protection of friends, and commitment, he tells her, “I am going to take care of this… And then I’ll come find you, and I’ll take care of you.”

True to his word, Adam alerts the Harvard University people of Tom’s behavior and he’s fired. Back in California, Olive receives word that her adviser has reached out to other labs on her behalf, and she’s received several offers for next year to continue her research. Upon Adam and Holden’s return from Boston, the two of them, plus Olive and Malcolm, have a fun celebratory dinner, full of Chinese food and bonding as a friendly foursome.

Turns out, Holden knew all about how Olive and Adam first met—years before, when she was having that contact lens issue—and that Adam had been crushing on her for real ever since. Olive, for her part, finally tells Adam, once they’re alone, that there’s no one else for her. That he’s the one she loves.

Final Image (pp. 350-352): Epilogue—10 months later. Olive and Adam reenact the moment of their first (very awkward) kiss exactly one year later. This time, it’s not awkward at all.