My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth is a new TA contemporary romance about Bel and Teo, two seniors who fall in love while building robots. This book will hit the shelves on May 31st. I was really excited to give this one a try since (1) the reviews so far are awesome, and (2) I’m a mechanical engineer who spent a good amount of time in college building robots.
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.
Apparently I’m the only one but I just didn’t like this and I thought the STEM representation was poorly done. I will preface this by saying there is a cute romance in here and if you’re not really looking for the STEM piece or don’t have much to personally compare it to, you’ll probably enjoy it. However, I’m a female mechanical engineer who spent a good chunk of my time in college as the only girl in the robotics lab so maybe I set the bar too high but this really fell flat.
My main complaint about this book is Bel, I just didn’t like her character and she didn’t remind me of a single female engineer I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Maybe this was the point but really there aren’t many books out there about female mechanical engineers so lets get something reasonable out there before we go trying to find the Elle Woods of engineering.
Bel’s inner monologue and actions at the beginning were so ridiculous, I couldn’t deal. When she got to saying they didn’t think she could do it because she was a girl over and over again, I was actually rolling my eyes and may have stopped reading if I didn’t have an ARC or if it was any longer. They don’t trust you because you are the new person and every time you are asked to explain your reasoning or do something, you run away or don’t say anything. So yes, you have to prove yourself and maybe you need to do so more because you’re a girl but just showing up and expecting to be taken seriously and have everyone say you’re brilliant is absurd. She was so arrogant about her abilities and convinced that her ideas were better than everyone else’s and the only possible issue they could have with her is her gender. The way she went about applying for college was also similarly ridiculous but won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers. She needed a reality check and it eventually did come but it was way too late for my liking.
I also hate that every female engineering or science character needs to be quirky and really this extends to books without STEM too. Why does every YA author feel the need to focus on the clothes of their female characters and how they’re so different? I’m over it. Especially in this case it seemed like trying to go above and beyond to make her special or weird or I don’t even know. I could deal with the glittery eyeshadow and bird jeans but spoon necklaces and weird socks with skirts just was too much and totally unnecessary. This is a 272-page book about a girl and boy falling in love building robots, we didn’t need so many musing on her odd clothing choices. What’s wrong with a girl in jeans and a t-shirt?
Some of the points being made about sexism in engineering were true but it was so heavy handed. The number of people who actually say you can’t do engineering because you are a girl are limited, it happens in much more subtle ways. Only having size XL gloves in the mechanics lab, having far fewer women’s bathrooms in the engineering building, having people talk to the guy beside you even when you are the one in charge. Even more obvious things like being the only female in a huge room of engineers or having a guy make a slight funny face when you tell them what you do. These types of things are my experiences and I would have liked to see at least one similar thing reflected. Yes, there are idiots like Richardson but whatever. There are 3 girls on this robotics team of 10? (I seriously couldn’t keep track and the author didn’t make it clear) people so not bad at all. Maybe there weren’t any girls on the other teams but don’t know, the only team they specifically said was all boys was from an all boys school so not really a sexism issue. Bel is also chosen for the team when she’s the only girl to tryout and doesn’t even do the tryout correctly. They try to point at Mac as sexist but it seemed like a stretch and typical complaining students always do that a teachers has favorites rather than anything specifically sexist (and his statement near the end had me fuming but no spoilers so I’ll keep that rant to myself). There was some stuff in the sappy ending that did ring true but it took way too long to get there.
The other characters were better although still had some issues. Teo had some good points and some bad. I ended up almost liking him in the end. I thought the discussions of the pressure he was feeling were done well. My biggest issue with him was that he shows some sexist leanings and is never called out on it. It isn’t in how he treats the girls on the team but in talking about Bel applying for college, he twice mentioned something about how they’ll be looking for female engineers. This rubbed me the wrong way entirely as this is one of the things I hate the most about how people view women in engineering programs. It implies she’ll get chosen for simply being a girl, not because she earned it (which granted she didn’t). I hate this idea and the fact it was not called out at all really bothered me. There is no affirmative action for women in engineering, women aren’t hired or promoted over men because they are women, it’s simply not true and anyone who implies I got where I am because of my gender is going to get an earful from me. Given the situation, it was like Bel was hoping he was right and she would get chosen because of her gender and that’s just not acceptable.
Neelam was my favorite character as I thought she was the most interesting look at women in engineering. She’s still a stereotype but she did remind me of some classmates and colleagues of mine. Her discussion about what it was like for her as a girl who liked robots was by far the best and most realistic part of the book. The other friends and characters were fine, all pretty standard YA secondary characters.
Overall, I didn’t like this one but think others will. I just hope a realistic view of women mechanical engineers will be written one day because this isn’t it. I want the story of Neelam’s experience. I want the story of a female Teo who is challenged by a new guy at school coming on the team. I want the story of the all girls robotics team. I don’t need the story of a flaky girl who happens to be a secret genius with robots.
* I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. *