O’Clover, Ellen. Seven Percent of Ro Devereux. HarperTeen 2023. 320 pp. ISBN 978-0063255036. $18.99
I am 100% in love with this book–which places the enemies-to-lovers genre in high school setting–even though it contains on-purpose mean. Endorsements from Rachel Lynn Solomon and Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka got me to download from NetGalley, and I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. I read it in one sitting, foregoing beauty sleep, and cried. Twice.
When Rose Devereux’s senior project, a future-predicting app based on a childhood cootie catcher game, goes viral, she is unexpectedly matched with her childhood best friend turned enemy, Alastair Miller, who agrees to participate in the ruse they are in love and meant to be for the price of his college tuition. The app, designed in conjunction with the help of family friend and behavioral scientist Vera, makes predictions for your future housing, career, number of children and then matches you to a prospective partner, based on your answers to a 100-question quiz. When a start-up becomes interested, eighteen-year-old Ro signs the contract against her father’s wishes, hoping to go directly into a coding career and skip college altogether. Her senior year of high school becomes lost to daily meetings, app coding adjustments, social media training, and fake dates, and no one seems to be listening to her assertation that human behavior is only 93% predictable, and Vera doesn’t want any part of profit-sharing on the project. MASH provides no guarantees, but XLR8’s narrative focuses only on the shiny promise of the peace of mind of leaving nothing to chance. Ro’s best friend Maren is reluctant to take the quiz and lock herself in, focusing instead on her own senior project, and provides some foreshadowing in wondering what happens when one half of a couple in a happy relationship opts into the partner matching aspect. And then, XLR8 starts adding unvetted questions to the quiz to stay “nimble” and the New York Times breaks an story on the rise of teenage depression due to dreams not just deferred but destroyed.
The slow burn between Miller and Rose is wholly believable. They were best friends because their mothers were best friends, and after Ro’s mom split when she was two to pursue a career, Miller’s mom Willow became of surrogate of sorts–until their freshman year, when they have a falling out when Ro cruelly puts Miller down at a party, simply to look cooler in front of the senior basketball star she’s crushing on. Ah, the terrible decisions we make at fifteen without thought to the consequences! And the grudges we hold, when the air could have been cleared with time and patience… Miller and Ro don’t speak for three years–until he comes up as her perfect match. Having a front seat to their gradual and skittish trust, acceptance, and reliance on one another was a beautiful thing. Supporting characters are a little more one-note: ambitious Evelyn, the orchestrator of the project; concerned dad, a coffee shop guy with restaurateur dreams. Felix, who is appointed as stylist and babysitter, channels a gender-neutral Nigel from Devil Wears Prada but stands out–and stands up, as does Maren.
The Denver setting and Colorado suburbs are a great contrast to the NYC publicity circuit. The XLR8 offices with their kombucha on tap and infused waters seem a bit tongue in cheek. I had a little trouble suspending my disbelief that the principal would be on board with MASH’s detraction from academics, with students downloading the app surreptitiously under their desks and couples being made and broken from an app. Still, this contemporary novel covers ethics, science, psychology, media, grief, fame, love and loyalty with authenticity and grace. Ro suffers tremendous losses and is incredibly resilient and resourceful, and she does the right thing, even when it’s not the easiest path, which is tremendously satisfying.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #SevenPercentofRoDevereux from #NetGalley.