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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of How to End a Love Story by Yulin Kuang

I was intrigued by the premise of this story--two people tied together by a past tragedy who stumble back into each other's lives in an LA writer's room--but I felt frustrated by what felt like an emotional swirl that I didn't connect with.

In high school, Helen Zheng's life was upended by the tragic, sudden death of her sister Michelle. Now Helen is in her early 30s, and Helen hasn't seen Grant Shepard in thirteen years--not since they were bound by the horrific events surrounding her sister's death...and since Helen demanded that Grant leave her sister's funeral as soon as he walked in.

A successful young-adult author, shy Helen is excited to be part of the adaptation of her work into a television series. She relocates from New York to Los Angeles and is adjusting to the showy personas she's encountering and to participating in the process of shifting her words to their representation on the screen. But when she meets the key writers involved in working on the project, she is shocked and dismayed to find that Grant Shepard is front and center. He's a key staff member, and if she stays in the writers' room, she'll be working with him all day, every day.

Initially horrified, Helen reluctantly builds a bond with Grant. At first she is closed off, but they soon joke around and feel a spark.

When their relationship becomes physical, they jump right into erotic talk--much of this highly specific dialogue made me laugh, as it felt abrupt and out of line with the rest of their connection. (Side note: hearing "sweetheart" as his dirty-talk nickname for her felt jarring to me every time.) It also seemed as though their sex life would have felt more intriguing and would have carried more weight if either their relationship had felt more forbidden or if they had acknowledged their emotional bond.

Helen is presented as shy, and while I appreciated her taking control of her intimate life, it seemed off that she and Grant both comfortably and immediately made specific, bossy sexual demands of each other--who are, after all, near strangers linked by a devastating past event--and entered into very heated, varied sexual encounters. They have the "best" kiss, his chest is the most sculpted, and many of their moments together are just perfect.

Meanwhile, conveniently for the halfhearted will-they-won't-they (spoiler: they will, they have, they are) tension, Helen says that she denies their clear emotional bond in spite of extensive evidence of its existence. Yet she says things like "Sometimes I miss you when you're right in front of me." It made things feel disjointed to me.

Helen seems to understand early on that Michelle was having thoughts of suicide and that Grant was in the wrong place at the wrong time the night of Michelle's death. The basis of her resistance to Grant is somewhat unclear--she doesn't seem to feel he is at fault, or deserves punishment, or is taking the situation lightly, or is a bad person. She pictures her parents' upset if she and Grant were together, which is a big strike in her mind against their relationship, but I felt like the forbidden-relationship element could have used more bolstering since Helen and Grant have clearly made peace with much or all of the circumstances surrounding of the loss of Michelle.

I didn't feel connected to Helen or the man's man character of Grant. I also had a tough time with the premise of this one but remained curious as to whether I was about to read essential, illuminating information about the events surrounding Helen's sister's death, or their relationship, or something else that would shed light on the past. I was imagining that eventually Helen would dig further into her past and complicated trauma, so that readers could understand why her having any level of a relationship with Grant seems to feel impossible, or so readers could understand more about her complex feelings and emotionally torn state regarding her sister's loss and having Grant in her life.

Yet as is sometimes the case with death by suicide, it's confirmed later in the book that Michelle's inner workings will not be revealed to Helen or to the reader, and they remain a mystery years after her death. Helen must simply determine whether she can accept Grant's chance association with that tragic night--and as shown from early on in the book, she clearly can. Announcing their relationship to her parents is made out to be the final hurdle, and an almost-tragedy late in the book opens the door for this to occur.

I found myself increasingly frustrated the longer I listened to this story, which I received courtesy of and HarperAudio.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Yulin Kuang is the adapting screenwriter of Emily Henry's People We Meet On Vacation, as well as the writer/director of the forthcoming movie based upon Emily Henry's Beach Read. (For my Bossy reviews of Emily Henry's books, click here.)

For Bossy reviews of lighter fiction or rom-com books I've loved, check out these Greedy Reading Lists:


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