Before I started How to Date a Douchebag: The Learning Hours (oh boy that’s a long title!) I had just listened to a book where at the start I didn’t like the hero. In this book, at the start, I didn’t much like the heroine. It seems the “douchebag” of the title was something of a gender-flip.
College junior Rhett Rabideaux is a transfer to the Iowa University Wrestling Team. He’s not handsome. His nose has been broken too many times, his ears are “bent” and disfigured (I imagined something like the cauliflower ears that boxers get?), his face is otherwise fairly plain and his shaggy hair is badly in need of a cut. He has a lovely smile though. And, of course, his body is a sculpted work of art, testament to the training he does for his sport. He’s not a virgin but only just. His one previous sexual experience was rushed and not terribly satisfying – and back in high school. He’s not a “cool” guy. He doesn’t have “game”. In fact, he often misses cues that girls are interested in him because his expectation is that they are not and would never be.
Laurel Bishop is gorgeous. She has fiery red hair, a slender waist and great boobs – she tells the listener that herself so don’t just take my word for it. On the one hand, go Laurel for her self-confidence; indeed, objectively everyone else in the book thinks she’s gorgeous too so she has reason for it. On the other, I guess I have only a very little patience for the “I’m so pretty no-one takes me seriously” trope.
As the “new guy” on the wrestling team (that’s what they call him – “new guy”) and despite of a strict school policy against the practice, Rhett is being relentlessly hazed by his teammates. They are awful. Definitely, they are douchebags. After leaving him at a restaurant, stuck with a bill of over $450 they also put up flyers around the college advertising for a willing woman “with a pulse” to relieve Rhett of his virginity. (They made this up, they don’t know him well enough to know anything about his sexual experience.) Subsequently Rhett gets a lot of text messages. I have no idea why anyone would respond to such an ad. He gets pictures of boobs, butts and… other body parts. And he also gets a text from Laurel.
At first Laurel texts him to… tease? To be mean? It wasn’t entirely clear. Certainly her motives were not pure. I was astounded by her reaction to his brush off – she was offended! Laurel is nothing if not persistent however and she basically forces herself into Rhett’s SMS-life.
Laurel is, at first, entirely shallow, not at all nice and I did not like her. I struggled to keep going with the book in the beginning. The narration kept me going but I admit I took a break from the book early on because I found it hard to see how I could want Laurel and Rhett to end up together.
Rhett is lovely. He’s a true Southern gentleman (he’s from Louisiana) but not in any retrograde kind of way. He’s sweet, kind, loyal, generous, protective, supportive and he doesn’t assume he’s god’s gift to women. He listens. He cares.
Laurel initially gives Rhett a false name (I actually understood why she did this – she was very bad at explaining this to Rhett when the time came however) but when they actually meet the truth comes out and after a brief hiccup, they start to hang out together as friends. That friendship quickly grows, attraction builds and morphs into love. Laurel sees that Rhett may not be “cute” or “hot” but he is amazing. And she appreciates Rhett, eventually, for those qualities about him.
To be honest, I wondered at times what Rhett saw in Laurel (apart from her looks). He obviously finds her incredibly attractive but he is always respectful of her and never objectifies her. He also doesn’t judge her for her sexual experience (that’s part of what I mean about his gentlemanliness not being retrograde).
The story doesn’t have a traditional romance arc in that there is no black moment which leads to separation and then reconciliation/HEA. If anything, there is a mildly grey moment which is short-lived indeed – but for the most part, once they start spending time together Rhett and Laurel just get to know each other and fall slowly (or not so slowly, depending on one’s perspective) into love.
It was that part of the book that ended up winning me over. When Laurel stopped being awful to him, when she started to appreciate Rhett and not treat him like an object for her amusement, I began to like her. Truthfully, what she was like at the start of the book was quite different to what she was like later and there was never really a good explanation for why there was a change.
I would have liked to better understand what made Rhett transfer from Louisiana to Iowa. There was a brief mention of “better opportunities and more scholarship money” but it was almost a throwaway line and a big deal was made of the apparent disapproval of his parents at him transferring schools. I’d have liked to have understood his reasons better.
Even though I struggled with parts of the plot, there was a lot to like mixed in there too and the narration was excellent. Josh Goodman impressed me particularly. His female voice was quite good and I enjoyed his characterisations. I liked his pacing and the emotional intensity he brought to the performance. Some not-great things were done to Rhett by his teammates but Mr. Goodman never let Rhett come across as piteous.
Muffy Newtown also performed very well. I expect it was partly her performance which had me coming around to (mostly) liking Laurel.
Rhett is a native of Baton Rouge and because of his Cajun roots, he also speaks French, slipping in and out of the language throughout the book. Both narrators had an opportunity to try out their French accents. Ms. Newtown had Laurel’s accent (when she was mimicking Rhett, trying to learn a phrase) as believably bad, while both performers did well with it when it was Rhett speaking.
Ms. Newtown’s and Mr. Goodman’s performances were enough to keep me hanging in when the story wasn’t grabbing me at the start. I’m pleased to say that Laurel’s character turned around sufficiently that the latter half of the book was far more successful and even the jerky teammates started to show some improvement in behaviour later in the audio, turning their pranks to more benevolent purposes. I think I’d have struggled if Rhett had been continually victimised all the way through the book.
After a less-than-stellar start, The Learning Hours ended up being entertaining and engaging – but Rhett was definitely the highlight of the book.
Note: this title is included in the Audible US Romance Package.
TITLE: How to Date a Douchebag: The Learning Hours
AUTHOR: Sara Ney
NARRATED BY: Muffy Newtown & Josh Goodman
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
STEAM FACTOR: 6
REVIEWER: KaetrinBuy How to Date a Douchebag: The Learning Hours by Sara Ney on Amazon