I don’t read a lot of romance, but I did pick up Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game last year. That was a pretty good time, so I was excited to pick up Thorne’s 2019 release, 99 Percent Mine.
In the novel, Darcy Barrett returns from a shift at the bar to find her childhood friend, Tom, ready to start work on the renovations of the cottage she and her brother have inherited. Tom is used to dealing with the Barrett twins’ frequent disagreements and high expectations, but he’s still worried about the responsibilities associated with starting his own renovation company, and about losing his friends in the process of fixing up their house. With tensions high between the twins and Tom caught in the middle, flighty Darcy is forced to face her fears by embracing the cottage’s new look and fighting for the romance she always ran away from.
At least, I think that’s what the book is about. The strongest impression I’m left with at this story’s conclusion is one of confusion- I don’t know if my brain just operates on different circuitry than Thorne’s or what, but starting around the halfway mark I was completely lost.
I think my main issue with this plot is that it’s one of those angsty misunderstanding types in which the drama could have been avoided entirely if the characters had simply shared an honest, adult discussion at the beginning of the novel. It’s clear to the reader early on that Tom and Darcy are in love, and that their reasons for trying to stay away from each other are not big enough to hold them back once all of their truths are out in the open. But it’s practically impossible to avoid predictability in romance, so I tried to overlook the obvious ending and enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, that became increasingly difficult to do.
The next obstacle for me was characterization. I found it incredibly difficult to keep track of whether Darcy was chasing Tom at the moment, or trying to hold him at arm’s length. Both characters wavered so often and for so little reason that I struggled to understand their dynamic at any given point of the story. I think Thorne was going for a we-want-each-other-but-don’t-think-we-deserve-each-other vibe, but both Darcy and Tom seem to have the emotional instability of teenagers who take everything to heart and change their minds at the drop of a hat. These adult characters act completely immature: Darcy gives up her dream career after one bad review and Tom all but abandons ship when he has to admit that he’s not capable of 100% perfection. Darcy throws tantrums. At many points its unclear whether their friendship or potential romance is more important to them, or whether they believe it’s best just to leave the other alone. I love complex characters, but I had a hard time connecting the dots even between one sentence and the next with these two.
Even more off-putting than the inconsistent characters though, is the completely nonsensical writing that surrounds them. 99 Percent Mine reads like an unedited first draft, free of simple mistakes like typos but in desperate need of some revision. The story opens in the bar where Darcy works, giving the reader insight into a setting and an array of characters that receive only bare mentions throughout the rest of the book, if they reappear at all. There’s a sort-of-friend with benefits who does absolutely nothing for the story. Darcy complains about her paychecks barely covering the cost of her health care (she has a congenital heart defect, which is actually one of the few things I appreciated about this book), but then goes on to fund pizza parties for the entire renovation crew on a weekly basis. She seems to hate her brother for everything except the fact that he’s her brother, which made their relationship almost as difficult to comprehend as the romance with Tom. Even at the micro level, details don’t match up; at one point, Darcy phones a friend and asks for a ride; the friend agrees before going on to talk about something else, but without any mention of ending the call Darcy is suddenly speaking to a different person and making other plans for the afternoon, and the friend never shows up. I think that was about the point at which I gave up reading for any purpose other than to finish.
” ‘One hundred percent mine.’ He considers that, then maybe he remembers the desperate hug that my brother gave me. He tips his head toward the door. ‘Better let him have one percent of me.’ He smiles, and I laugh. ‘Okay. Ninety-nine percent mine. That’s got a nice ring to it.’ “
It hurts me to list so many complaints after enjoying Thorne’s The Hating Game as much as I did. In the acknowledgements of this book, Thorne talks about being shocked by her debut’s success and a bit scared to publish again afterward, and I think that shows in 99 Percent Mine. But I also think that with this one out of the way, there might be another Hating Game-quality story someday. The first half of this book did strike me as perfectly competent, but somewhere along the way it unraveled. As always, it’s entirely possible that I’m missing something or that other readers will simply find more to enjoy than I did, but I feel confident in saying that this one probably won’t be received as favorably as Thorne’s debut.
If you’re picking up 99 Percent Mine just for The Hating Game‘s epilogue, you might be disappointed there as well. The additional scenes packed into the back of this novel (epilogues for both 99 Percent Mine and The Hating Game) are only a few pages long each, and absolutely unnecessary caps to their respective stories. They read like wish-fulfillment scenes, little snippets that exist just to give the reader the thrill of seeing characters they liked in print again, even if just for a kiss. But I understand that most people picking up Sally Thorne’s books are probably looking for the easy angst and kissing and happy endings, so there will likely be plenty of readers who get more out of this novel and its extras than I did.
My reaction: 2 out of 5 stars. This book started out well enough for me- not any kind of personal favorite, but at least I could follow it- and then spiraled out of control in the second half. I had high hopes for another The Hating Game, but I think I’m swearing off romance for a while instead. I’ll still be interested in seeing how Sally Thorne might do with a third book, but I think I’ll wait and see how it does before committing to it if she does continue. I may just be the wrong audience for this genre, Hating Game aside.
The Literary Elephant