I was excited to read this new standalone by Penny Reid. But the reason I know it was excellent is that I did not have to charge my phone during the day because I was immersed in my Kindle. Winnifred Gobaldi is a middle school science teacher that records and posts STEM related videos to social media. As much as she loves her job, she needs some additional income to survive in Seattle. Her friend and roommate Ameila has a job opportunity that would be perfect for her but in order to qualify she needs to increase her following online. Winnie and Ameila come up with a plan to boost her views and followers and enlist the help of their mutual friend Jeff. When things do not work out with Jeff, Byron Vissier takes his place. Byron is a reclusive, intelligent, bestselling author that has previously disappeared from social media. His exclusivity and popularity bring the numbers Winnie needs but at what cost?
This is a longer book, but you get so wrapped up in the story that you want even more. Winnie and Byron are both relatable characters, especially to individuals that have lived in a highly academica centered life. Penny has her own experience in STEM to draw from but like any true researcher she has brought her receipts about women in STEM too. Winnie is a smart woman that loves the STEM fields and could theoretically do anything she set her mind to do, but she has chosen to teach and inspire others. When they start filming TikToks for to bring in followers, Winnie feels like she is being disingenuous. She does not want to distract from her STEM focus, but as Amelia points out, she can do both. “‘[W]e can’t keep thinking about women in STEM as us versus them, where girls are either good at engineering or good at quote, unquote girly things. That’s changing in a big way—it’s already shifted—and companies, nonprofits, advertisers need to catch up.'”This is a lesson I wish I would have learned a lot sooner, myself. As a female engineering student I was out number 15:1. I oftentimes felt I needed to downplay my femininity in order to succeed or be taken seriously, but you can be both “pretty” and “smart”. I love that Winnie discovers that and acknowledges that it makes her human. None of us fit into one box.
Byron can seem a bit eccentric but the more we get to know him the easier he is to understand. I am so glad that Penny gave us his POV, without it I think we would have been as lost as Winnie about his thought process. Byron has been harboring his attraction and affection for Winnie for many years but she thinks he dislikes her because everything out of his mouth is a criticism or critique. Oh, the quiet ones. We often have a lot more going on in our head than we ever let anyone know. He may seem like a standoffish guy to the rest of the world but to those he truly cares about he would do absolutely anything, including dying hair.
This book does not have a huge conflict that needs to be solved for everyone to get a HEA but rather it is about how we all have to learn and grow to be happy. Byron and Winnie both have to face things about themselves that are uncomfortable not only for them but others. I felt like Penny did an excellent job depicting these characters realistically. We all know or are a Byron and have to find different ways to live in a social media age. Or we all know or are a Winnie that never wants to be a burden to anyone else. There are so many great quotes and inspirations in this book that I believe anyone can find someone to relate to, just don’t be a Jeff.