El Martin has two things going for him: his heard-earned IT skills and his common sense. They have helped him keep his nose above the fetid water of the life he’s been forced to live. With El’s mother dead, his father turned to alcohol and drugs, and his supplier M2 — short for Mean Motherfucker — happily moved into the apartment to keep a close eye on El. One, El is his gang’s hacker, and as the one person who knows how to use the ancient laptop, he’s irreplaceable. And two, El is gorgeous, and M2 wouldn’t mind getting a piece of that, but so far El’s been lucky enough to keep just out of reach.
El has dreams of getting a job, but his social and language skills peg him firmly as being unemployable. When a chance opportunity comes up to work with Dr. Henry Fairhaven to improve his manners, his diction, and his situation, El leaps for it. For Henry, El is a horrible temptation and a wonderful opportunity. Having already turned a duckling into a swan with Margo, who went from a trailer park to New York society girl thanks to Henry’s teaching, he’s looking to do it a second time to prove his methods aren’t a fluke.
What’s even harder is keeping himself from crossing the line of teacher and student when all he wants to do is stand closer, laugh longer, and bask in El’s company. But Henry doesn’t even know if El is gay. Besides, professional detachment is needed, surely? Maybe having El move into his guest room wasn’t the best idea. Then again …
Love and Linguistics is the second book in the Movie Magic Romances series, taking on another Audrey Hepburn movie: My Fair Lady. It’s an ugly duckling story with one of the sweetest main characters. El is, to put it simply, a good kid. He wants to do things right, and he wants people to like him. His aspirations aren’t to break into society or marry into wealth; he wants a job in IT. A job that pays enough to let him get an apartment and get his father into rehab. When Margo asks him to work hard and show off at a party, he agrees. Because he likes her, because she’s buying him clothes and paying for his language lessons with Henry. And when Henry asks him to attend the Met Gala to show off to an old rival of his, El agrees.
Henry is shallow, selfish, and self-centered. He has his work, his one friend (Margo), his receptionist, and his mother … and that’s about it. He takes on El for two reasons. One, to write a paper about his linguistic methods, and two, because El is gorgeous. But, slowly, bit by bit, Henry begins to see El as more than just a hot man; he sees the young man, who is trying so very hard to please, as someone bright and clever who can keep up with his conversation. It doesn’t take Henry long to go from an infatuation to something deeper and more frightening.
This story is a bit on the shallow side. While there could have been a great deal to uncover about class, about preconceptions and judging a book by its cover, it never really goes there. The focus of the story is on El and Henry slowly correcting El’s speech and manners. It’s about El charming everyone he meets, and about El and Henry falling in love one another. El is a very sweet and good character, and I appreciated that Henry never tried to make El be a different person than he was. He corrected his speech and his manners, but never looked down on him or tried to make El feel lesser for not growing up wealthy.
For myself, I didn’t feel the chemistry between El and Henry. It all felt very surface level and, while El is an engaging character, he doesn’t actually do anything. The plot happens to him, and he has a very static character arc. The only growing or changing he does is speaking properly. Henry struggles a little more to accept his desires for El, but — again — it felt rather two-dimensional. That’s not to say this is a bad book. The writing, the pacing, and the characters are all well done, which I expect from this author, but it just didn’t click with me. Still, if there are more books in this series, you can bet I’ll be grabbing them.