REVIEW: I Hope This Finds You Well by Natalie Sue

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As far as Jolene is concerned, her interactions with her colleagues should start and end with her official duties as an admin for Supershops, Inc. Unfortunately, her irritating, incompetent coworkers don’t seem to understand the importance of boundaries. Her secret to survival? She vents her grievances in petty email postscripts, then changes the text color to white so no one can see. That is until one of her secret messages is exposed. Her punishment: sensitivity training (led by the suspiciously friendly HR guy, Cliff) and rigorous email restrictions.

When an IT mix-up grants her access to her entire department’s private emails and DMs, Jolene knows she should report it, but who could resist reading what their coworkers are really saying? And when she discovers layoffs are coming, she realizes this might just be the key to saving her job. The plan is simple: gain her boss’s favor, convince HR she’s Supershops material, and beat out the competition.

But as Jolene is drawn further into her coworkers’ private worlds and realizes they are each keeping secrets, her carefully constructed walls begin to crumble—especially around Cliff, who she definitely cannot have feelings for. Eventually she will need to decide if she’s ready to leave the comfort of her cubicle, even if that means coming clean to her colleagues.

TW/CW – toxic work environment, harassing boss, secondary character is in a relationship with a bullying fiance, heroine self medicates her problems with lots of alcohol 

Dear Natalie Sue, 

Every once in a while I’ll look at a cover and read a blurb and think “this could be really good or really … not good.” Thankfully this one is really good. A lot of why I say that is because the relationships feel real, the awfulness of the workplace feels real, no one is perfect (by a long shot), but lessons are learned and in the end, most of the characters will be in a better place. 

The thing about working in a regional office for a big-box retailer that sells corn by-products, camping things, and cream for various types of rashes and boils is that not one of us is living our dream. They’ll talk about starting a sandwich truck, even though they aren’t even qualified to roast a marshmallow, or fleeing to Belize to teach surfing lessons. But every one of them shows up on Monday, until the weeks turn into a life sentence.

Jolene dislikes a lot of the things in her life. Her job isn’t great and her work colleagues don’t like her for a lot of reasons, namely that she doesn’t socialize with them much. Jolene doesn’t feel the need to faux gush over personal stuff, dislikes the glitter that her cube neighbor’s Christmas decorations got on Jolene’s stuff, has been in competition with another worker for years, hates being coupled with another Iranian-Canadian as the token workplace POC in the office, and just basically likes to keep to herself. When her means of releasing her stress is discovered and she has to enter into mandated HR classes to keep her job, she’s pissed.

Rhonda also doesn’t know that Armin is the one killing Joey. Just yesterday, I saw him pouring light blue Gatorade into the pot.          

The timing works out: about a year ago, Rhonda took Armin’s joojeh kabob out of the fridge and threw it away. When he asked her, she said she thought it had gone bad because of the smell. Joey’s mysterious decline began soon after.

The outcome gives her a tool and weapon that is too good to pass up – though she did initially try to report it. As she learns more about her coworkers and what all of them are up against in real life as well as on the job, things begin to spiral out of control. Soon she’s dancing on a tightrope trying to keep her lies and the knowledge that she shouldn’t have straight and from coming out. Will she survive this workplace hellhole and what will be left when she emerges on the other side?

I’ve spent the past hour digging through all their inboxes.   

And they’re all so much worse than they let on.  

Every email is either a complaint about another person not doing their job right or a rebuttal to protect their own ass. Nobody actually does anything nice, or helpful, or even interesting.        

It’s like opening a curtain. I’ve never known any of them, never seen the faces behind the masks, and there’s something super fragile about breaching this

I didn’t mean for everything to become a fight. Every petty thing I did was small, but they slowly compounded, and now it’s who I am to them. It’s my whole life here. The hollow feeling from before expands.

So yes, a lot of what I enjoyed here is how everyone is a bit fucked up but also most have reasons *why* they’re fucked up and many of those reasons matter. Because of a past event as well as her childhood growing up as a minority in a small Canadian town (and it’s not the whole town but rather school students who, as students often will, picked on the outsiders), Jolene doesn’t open up and let people in. She has a love/hate relationship with her culture as well as her mother. Her mom is tough though, as Jolene knows, and picked up her life, which was broken almost overnight, and restarted in a new country. The book has a lovely immigrant backstory that is also worked into some of the shit that Jolene finds herself in at her job. 

Mom leans in closer and whispers, “You didn’t take your time on your eyeliner. It’s crooked. I told you to make sure to do good job.”

The conversation switches to heated Farsi. Arguing fingers point at my face, my hair, my boobs—and based on the expressions, they’re assessing how dire my desirability is. This isn’t meant to be as hurtful as it feels. It’s honestly just the weirdest display of love.

The romance is an understated one with a wonderful guy. Cliff is actually a good Human Resources person. My own encounters with HR were, let’s say, underwhelming at work so it’s nice to see a truly caring person in that role. Since they’re at the same workplace and Cliff has a degree of control over Jolene’s continued employment, of course things will be fraught sooner rather than later and kudos that they both pull back. Jolene also deals with a parentally neglected twelve year old where she lives who reminds her of herself at that age. That relationship also has its ups and downs but again, it’s all believable and has a nice ending.

“I realized what it is about you. I almost never know what you’re going to say—a surprisingly rare trait.”

“You say that like it’s a good thing.” I lower my chin.

“It is.” His stare deepens and his elbows slip a millimeter closer to me on the table. “Makes life so much more interesting. I’d love for you to accompany me to the DMV or something normally unbearable just to Jolene it up.”

As Jolene dives into her coworkers’ emails, digital file folders, and admin stuff she discovers that the people she thought she knew are people also struggling with the job and in some cases, with their personal lives. In order to improve her own chances of keeping her job and being seen as a “team player,” she starts to interact more and realizes that being “seen” and getting to know everyone – okay, almost everyone – isn’t as bad as she thought. She even feels sympathy for the truly spectacularly fired person though perhaps the office wide mooning was OTT. 

To: All Staff—Supershops

                  Subject: Fuck You

                  Colleagues,

                  Today will be my last day at Supershops. Regrettably, reason and morale are at an all-time low and nobody cares about each other anymore.

                 

                  A lot of you have made my life wonderful here. And you know who you are.

                  But this message is for the absolute twats who made my life hell. The individuals who participate in blatant patterns of disrespect.

                     You know who you are too.

                 

                  Nobody notices the things I do for this office. In a couple weeks, you bitches will all have watermarks on your glassware without me to refill the Jet-Dry, and you don’t care. Don’t fear for me. Fear for you.

Of course eventually the fit hits the shan but not quite in the way I expected. The fall out is not just work related but pulls in Jolene’s past and relies on modern HR interventions that, despite the fallout, I’m actually glad to see are being taken seriously in the workplace now. This is the point where Jolene reaches rock bottom and has to face what she’s done, how it’s hurt her and how she hurt others. There’s some real character growth across the story which culminates in Jolene getting therapy for her past and working out a new relationship with her mother. 

The humor had me laughing as I really enjoy subtle snark and sarcasm. And now I’ve started looking up all the fantastic sounding food that Jolene and Armin mention in the book. The 1st and 2nd generation immigrant experience is real with both ups and downs honestly portrayed. Just about every character gets put through the wringer and, let’s be real, most of them needed it. But the scenarios are so well done and drawn that I was concerned about almost all of them and happy that several ended up in better places. This is more than a cubical romcom. It’s heartfelt and human and luckily for me this book turned out to be really good. A-

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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