Parker, Suzanne. The Do Over. Avon, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN 978-0063216051 $16.99
On the verge of landing an executive position, Lily Lee, start-up consultant and empowering author, discovers she has failed her background check due to being a few credits shy of her diploma. She will need to return to Carlthorpe College, not just to make up a class, but to meet graduation requirements that have changed in the last ten years. This oversight also threatens her personal integrity and second book deal. Insult to injury is bumping into her college boyfriend Jacob Cho (the one that broke her heart, natch!) who is now a T.A. for one of her required computer science courses–unless she can get off the waitlist for statistics.
In the midst of the drama, Lily gets the opportunity to try things she missed out on and re-experience a frat party (attending doesn’t improve with age) and stocking up on road trip and dorm snacks, but adding to her stress is her first book simultaneously getting criticized, mansplained AND borderline plagiarized by a white dude intent on creating a series of feminist business books with his sister to both bury Lily’s work and use her for an “urban” edge.
Lily’s Korean ancestry helps to round out her characterization in terms of her relationship with (and expectations of) her family. Dialogue is sprinkled with Korean terms and she references favorite Korean dishes. I recognize it is not the job of the author to educate this white girl on banchan and translations, but I appreciated the effort and level of detail that Park went to.
Also appreciated are the details of Lily’s anxiety, which manifested in college, and which she still goes to somes lengths to downplay or hide until pressed. Luckily, relief comes in the form of a ride-or-die bestie, Mia, who keeps showing up on campus for support; her new roomie; Beth, a baker with a case of extreme positivity; and a puppy-ish group of young Asian students who form a study group. Lily is able to be real and honest and is accepted when she discloses her stressors and coping mechanisms, and coming clean about her mental health helps to direct her next work in progress.
The romance feels less central to the plot than Lily’s coming of age: standing up to the dean that could have prevented the credits mishap, disclosing her anxiety, confronting a privileged male, rethinking her career goals, and reframing her work. Amends with Jake happen too, but way late in the book, and not until after the two violate Title IX by falling into bed together (she was going to drop his class, then doesn’t) and then deciding to keep it professional. To my disappointment, sexy scenes are kept behind firmly closed (and locked) doors.
What stopped this from being a four-star book for me was that it was billed as a second-romance and there is a HEA, but I wanted more Jake and more steam. The author (or editor’s) choice to flashback to his devotion even as they are breaking up, in the form a promise no matter what Jake will always pick up when Lily calls, is placed way too close to her actually needing him to follow through on that promise. In another flashback, her reaction to his needing to follow through on the events that lead to her separation are immature. His apology for it ten years later seems unnecessary. He (immaturely) asks her to no be mad, to be happy — you cannot tell other people how to feel. At thirty-two, these characters should be a little more evolved.
One last bone to pick: the reference to women as females as though they are biological specimens is a personal pet peeve. It’s great Lily is the first lady to be a intern with the prestigious company Solv, but multiple times throughout the book there are references to humans as female (and not just by the statistician protagonist) that made me squirm and made the book feel dated in a time when we are evolving from gender as biology and sex as binary to a spectrum. Since I read this in ARC, it’s not too late to fix it.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheDoOver from #NetGalley.