Lauren, Christina. Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. Gallery, 2018. ISBN 978-1501165856 320 pp. $
School teacher Hazel, with her menagerie of pets, variety of hobbies, and a history of zany adventures, has had a crush on slightly uptight Josh ever since their shared anatomy class in college (the novel opens with her puking on his shoes at a party—hardly a meet-cute). Fast-forward ten years, and Hazel, just hired to work at a new school, is shocked at an end-of-summer cookout to learn that her former TA is the brother of one of her best friend. Emily pushes them to hang out and a broken pipe disaster results in Josh getting talked into allowing Hazel to crash with him. She supports him through a breakup, and their friendship is solidified by their self-proclaimed “undatable” statues. Both single, they start setting one another up on (unpurposely bad) blind dates. Hilarity ensues, and their relationship deepens… and you know where this is going, right?
Shared in tandem voices, the story is replete with funny dialogue, excruciatingly awkward details, and well-drawn supporting characters like Hazel’s mom (who is equally and unapologetically eccentric in spite of it breaking her marriage). Hazel’s warm heart paired with inner dialogue that is sometimes hilarious and sometimes insecure hits just the right balance, while Josh is sweet and mellow and controlled and real.
The abrupt ending features a cliffhanger that requires an epilogue to predictably tie up loose ends. It feels like a bit of a copout to not show the gory details and allow the reader to see the characters working through a difficult situation. Still, that Hazel never needs to change her unfiltered authentic self and the satisfying conclusion of Josh’s complete, constant acceptance of her just as she is–to the point of ENCOURAGING her to be herself by wearing silly hats–makes this a not-to-be missed contemporary romance.