Emma works as the assistant to Jo Jones, a well-known Hollywood actress, writer, and producer. Although the two have a strictly professional relationship, when the women are caught laughing together on an awards show red carpet, the tabloids go crazy and decide they are a couple. It is already a tense time for Jo, as she is the new writer for a big movie and is getting a lot of scrutiny. But Jo also has a policy to never comment on her love life, so the women decide to wait it out and hope the rumors die off.
Unfortunately, the gossip mill doesn’t seem to be abating as fast as Jo and Emma hoped, especially when it becomes clear there is some sort of leak within their production team who is fueling the fire. While the women have always had a comfortable relationship, now they are second guessing every move, worried about giving other people the wrong impression. As Jo’s TV show goes on summer hiatus and she focuses on her movie script, Jo and Emma end up spending a lot more time together without a lot of the other staff around. They start to grow closer and a friendship begins to bloom. Jo comes to rely on Emma more than ever before and the two forge a new connection.
When production starts up again, however, the tension comes back, particularly when Emma is the victim of workplace sexual harassment. Jo is willing to go all in to support Emma however she needs, but the situation has made both women more conscious about their relationship, even as they each start to recognize an attraction to each other. Now as Emma is set to begin a new position, she and Jo just might be ready to figure out if there is something real between them and if they truly are meant to be together.
Something to Talk About is the debut book by author Meryl Wilsner and a really engaging story. As soon as I heard the details and saw this cover, I was eager to grab this book. Wilsner has a great style that I really enjoyed. There is also a nice “inside Hollywood” side to the story, as the women work in TV/film, and I liked that behind-the-scenes element a lot. Jo and Emma are great characters and there is a nice side cast too, particularly Emma’s sister and Jo’s best friend. They are the best kind of confidantes — willing to listen to you wallow, but also good for a kick in the pants when needed.
The book has two main conflicts, which intermingle over the story. The first is the fact that everyone thinks Emma and Jo are a couple, and they are under constant scrutiny. It takes what was a professional, cordial working relationship and makes it both more tense, as well as more personal, as the two are sort of bonded together dealing with the situation. Wilsner does a nice job showing Jo’s tension, in particular, as she finds herself second guessing even the smallest gestures, wondering if someone is going to misinterpret. As the story develops, Emma is faced with a case of sexual harassment at work, which makes things even more tense. It happens as Jo and Emma are starting to have feelings for one another, but Jo would never consider a move on an employee and is very sensitive to doing anything that would make Emma uncomfortable. The plot gives a nod to the #MeToo movement in the way that speaking out against a well-known and loved man in the industry is so difficult and how those in positions of power often prey on those more vulnerable.
From a relationship end, this story is the slowest of burns. I mean SLOW. BURN. Aside from an accidental “miscalculated my aim” kiss early on, the women don’t even kiss until virtually the end of the book. But even aside from the physical, this story very (very) slowly develops the progression from purely professional, to friendly co-workers, to real friends, to lovers over the course of the book. I think Wilsner does a great job here with this aspect, as I felt like we could see the relationship development quite clearly, but I will admit, I was eager for some more action in terms of seeing that romantic connection happen earlier on. And I totally understand why the women can’t get together while Emma works for Jo, as so much of this story is focused on the inappropriateness of a workplace relationship. So plot wise, it all makes sense, but most of the story is build up and I wished it wasn’t over just as the connection is established.
In addition to being a rare female/female romance from a big publisher, the story also features both Jo’s Chinese-American background, as well as Emma’s Judaism, both of which are nice additions. The book doesn’t delve too deeply into either culture, but there are some nice moments for each character, so I appreciated that added diversity.
My biggest frustration here is that the women are a lot in their own heads, especially Emma, and are often misinterpreting things or making decisions that they think is what the other woman wants without talking to each other. Emma seems to always take something and leap to the worst type of “she must not really like me” response. This isn’t a Big Miscommunication type story, but there are so many little moments where things could have been resolved by just having a conversation instead of an assumption. I think because this book is such a slow burn, I found it all the more frustrating to have so many artificial roadblocks to the women moving forward, even as friends.
Overall, however, I really enjoyed this story. Wilsner has a great style and the story had a really nice tone. I particularly enjoyed the Hollywood setting and found the book really engaging. I look forward to more of Wilsner’s work.