The best kinds of romance novels will do more than give you butterflies in your stomach. You might cry or scream into your pillow, or in the case of Ali Hazelwood’s newest release “Love on the Brain,” you might walk away feeling smarter after reading.
“Love on the Brain” follows Bee Königswasser, a neuroscientist who has just been offered a dream career opportunity: working for NASA on a special mission. Life in academia is unpredictable (particularly when it comes to job security), so Bee needs everything to go well, but right away she has her work cut out for her. The equipment she needs isn’t ready. She doesn’t have the right credentials to get into her building. But worst of all, her co-leader on the project is Levi Ward, her hot but sworn enemy from grad school … or so she thinks.
Given the success of Hazelwood’s debut “The Love Hypothesis,” it’s no surprise that this new “STEM-inist romcom” was one of the more anticipated romance books of 2022. At first glance, the two stories are similar — intelligent but struggling scientists, tall love interests that “hate” their heroine and plenty of Star Wars references — but their differences surpass a simple change in trope.
While Bee and Levi both have successful careers in their respective fields and are paired together on an equal playing field, the characters in “The Love Hypothesis” had a more conflicting relationship as teacher and student. Beyond that, the characters in “Love on the Brain” have more to offer than their brains or their … well, if you’ve read the books, you know. Bee may be an insanely smart neuroscientist, but it’s her infatuation with “Love Island” and her downloading of Couch to 5K apps she hardly ever uses that makes her so much more relatable.
In the first chapter, we learn that Bee’s also faced a lot of hardship in her life. As a kid she moved around constantly; she’s been struggling to move forward professionally; she was engaged but called it off after finding out her fiancé slept with her best friend. Having poured so much of herself into her career, Bee is left to wonder who she’d be without it. Levi, in contrast, is more than your run-of-the-mill tall, dark, handsome stranger. He’s on Bee’s side whenever something goes wrong, he notices even the smallest things about her and he never tires of telling her how he feels. Also, he goes to therapy. Enough said.
Having a PhD in neuroscience herself, Hazelwood knows exactly what she’s writing about — both the good and the bad of the field. She masterfully raises important questions about gender disparity in the sciences without the story coming across as “preachy.” Bee encounters many of the struggles that women in STEM often face. Whether it’s dealing with mansplainers, sexist bosses or being straight up sabotaged, Bee goes through a lot while just trying to do her job. Worse still, her ideas aren’t taken seriously unless one of her male colleagues repeats them in his own words — a phenomenon she refers to as “Sausage Referencing.”
How does Bee deal with it all? Her Twitter account, “What Would Marie Do,” inspired by her idol Marie Curie, is Bee’s safe space where she shares her and her female coworkers’ experiences to highlight the harassment that women in STEM deal with on a daily basis. Ironically, what started as a rant propelled her into accidental internet stardom, as the account becomes one of the most popular on “Academic Twitter.” Sure, she then has to block any men who try to argue, but women who interact with the account find a sense of reassurance, offering support in the replies and even submitting their own questions for Bee to pose in other posts. Hazelwood tackles these issues in a lighthearted way, simultaneously giving us parodies of iconic sentences like “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a community of women trying to mind their own business must be in want of a random man’s opinion,” and bringing much-needed attention to the discrepancies in the field.
Fans of Hazelwood’s books will find everything they’re looking for in “Love on the Brain.” Whether you’re here for the STEM representation or simply the BookTok hype, you’ll leave with a basic understanding of neuroanatomy, and your relationship standards will be slightly higher than before you cracked open the front cover.
Senior Arts Editor Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.