Special thanks to Holiday House for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
Goodreads: My Mechanical Romance
Publisher: Holiday House
Published: 31 May 2022
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Opposites attract in this battle-robot-building YA romance from the NYT best-selling author of The Atlas Six.
Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn’t seem to like her either.
Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they’ve made more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made each other and the team better. Because girls do belong in STEM.
I buddy read with this Leslie and Julie who also had ARCs of the book and I’m so glad that we read this together! The topics and characters generated some good discussions between us that really helped me to figure out my thoughts/feelings about this book!
TL;DR: It took me a while to figure out how I felt about this book but ultimately, I think it was a great YA contemporary debut. This wasn’t just about girls/women in STEM but it covered complex biracial family dynamics and it had a sweet first-love romance between two characters from different backgrounds. Even though this wasn’t perfect, I liked how the author brought up what girls/women and POC in STEM experience, and I think it has the potential to generate some really great discussions amongst its readers.
There were a lot of things that I did end up enjoying but the parts of the story that bothered me were very irritating to the point where I just felt a lot of angsty anger. To be honest, I thought this had a rough start. The writing was fun, young and sassy/sarcastic in a way that I can see won’t work for everyone; it took a while for me to warm up to it too and there were times when it still came across as trying a bit too hard, but I did find it cheekily entertaining and the style added levity to the more serious subjects addressed. My Mechanical Romance isn’t simply a fluffy academic rivals-to-lovers romance but it also talks about complex families, the impact of divorced parents on kids, and the issues that women and especially WOC/POC in STEM face. It also sheds light on education inequality and the unrealistic academic expectations placed on teenagers to have it all figured out by the time they finish high school.
What I liked:
- There’s a very empowering vibe that runs through the story and the author’s acknowledgement at the end made me appreciate it more. The misogyny, micro-aggressions, condescension, prejudice, and the pervasive imposter syndrome that these young women of colour experienced in STEM were infuriating but sadly, unsurprising. That said, I loved how the author addresses the issue through empowered young women who refuse to let the patriarchy have the last laugh.
- I actually really enjoyed reading about STEM subjects it in this book. These kids were so passionate and driven and though the competitiveness was a little wild to me, I loved to see how they got really creative with solutions! These characters were very inspiring.
- Though most of the characters took their time to grow on me, grow on me they did. There were a few I loved from the beginning including Dash, Jamie and Lora, and I adored their positive and enthusiastic energy. Our MCs, Bel and Teo, took a little longer for me to like but I thought that they were realistically portrayed teenagers who had a lot of personal issues to deal with and who experienced considerable growth as the story continued.
- At the start, I wish that Bel had been less apathetic but though she required a lot of pushing from others to become more proactive, it was great to see her start taking up more space. She’s incredibly smart and has a very inquisitive mind and I loved that she was so comfortable in her own skin, quirks and all. I 100% related to her situation with college and not knowing where to apply or what program to apply for. It sparked some discussions about the unrealistic expectations that are placed on teens to have their lives figured out so young. I can’t believe we expect 18yos to know what they want when I still struggle to figure it out some days! I’m glad that Bel was able to find her passion but I think many readers will be able to sympathise with her situation.
- I wasn’t sure that I’d like Teo at the beginning as his arrogance and misogynistic attitude were quite off-putting. However, I did sympathise with his home situation. He has so much pressure on him and I felt sorry for him because of how that made him feel like he had to constantly be in control to succeed and to even be a blip on his dad’s radar. He does care about others and wants to see them succeed but he doesn’t go about it the right way, which was irritating at times, but he was open to learning and changing and I respected that about him.
- I thought Teo and Bel’s romance was pretty sweet. I like that Bel was unafraid to call him out on his crap even if he hated it and it made his ego feel fragile. 😂 I think she grounded him in a way and I think he helped her feel more confident in her abilities whenever she felt like an imposter in the group. I do wish that the romance had played a bigger role but I still really enjoyed their moments of growth together.
What I struggled with:
- Again, Teo wasn’t always the best guy to everyone. For example, how he treated Neelam was horrible and though I wasn’t a fan of her either, one of the main reasons she had difficulty in the club was because he didn’t take her seriously and everyone else followed his lead. He does have a moment of acknowledging this to himself at the end but I wished there had been a moment of acknowledgement with her too.
- Neelam. Oof, I really… Did not like her and tbh, and I hated the decision to make her character so horrible. There were moments that I sympathised with her because yes, she was treated awfully but what I didn’t like was how she treated Bel terribly in return because she felt like Bel didn’t deserve a spot in the club. I hate when girls/women are pitted against each other and this irked me the most in this book. Neelam might have had to work harder than Bel to “earn” her place in robotics but is that really a reason to tarnish or degrade someone else’s achievements or hard work, simply cos it’s different to the hard work you put in? They could have been there uplifting each other for a more powerful ‘girl power’ moment and instead, one is made to be bitter and the other to be insensitive. I’m over that line and it really bothered me that her character was done this way.
That said, I did think this was a pretty good contemporary debut overall, and I’m impressed that it’s written by the same author who wrote the extremely popular adult fantasy, The Atlas Six. I’d definitely be interested in reading what else she puts out in the future in this genre!
Have you read My Mechanical Romance or is it on your TBR?