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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Whack Job by Pete O’Brien is a quirky, irreverent look at status, power, money, relationships, and cultural mores in the 2020s. Jeff Land is anything but a typical, rural New York redneck. Despite having grown up around inherent racism, sexism, and the “good ‘ole boy” environment, he has fashioned himself into the star pupil at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Not only is Jeff blessed with immense design talent, artistic ability, good looks, and a fantastic physique, but to cap it off he is a stunningly good drummer and singer for a local New York band, Whack Job, trying to break into the competitive music scene. Despite his many advantages, he is surprisingly self-effacing, introspective, and modest. When the gorgeous, wealthy heiress, post-graduate student Amy Brock meets Jeff, she is amazed by his artistic ability and proposes they form a partnership to produce custom-designed furniture pieces within the budget of the middle class. Despite Jeff losing the credit for his designs, for marketing purposes, to Amy, he sees a bright future doing what he loves to do while making a financial success of himself, perfectly mapped out, and agrees to try Amy’s plan. The hardest stipulation for Jeff is Amy’s absolute insistence there will be no romance in their partnership. How can Jeff ignore her beauty, her brains, and her business skills forever, never mind her beautiful half-sister and gorgeous stepmother?
Whack Job is one of the most intriguing and enjoyable stories I have read in a very long time. Author Pete O’Brien has, in these two characters, perfectly embodied and then destroyed the stereotypes many would have of the “poor little rich girl” and the “hayseed hunk redneck.” Both characters are overdrawn to some extent but that is a necessary part of the plot that unfolds. Amy may be the heiress to billions but she is so much more than that; smart, intelligent, witty, logical, and, of course, drop-dead gorgeous. Jeff is outrageously creative and smart in his own right plus is the epitome of the rock and roll stud. They should make a perfect partnership both commercially and romantically but the author does an amazing job of setting up the precepts for romance but leaves readers wondering, will they, won’t they? As a straight, white male myself, I particularly appreciated the viewpoint that the world had heard enough of straight white males telling us what to like and dislike. A bi-racial, creative, gorgeous female calling the shots in the design and commercial world was just what this marketplace was screaming for. I also enjoyed the side arc of Jeff’s rock and roll career where casual sex, without strings, was not only the norm but also almost a prerequisite of the lifestyle. The dysfunctional families of both main characters highlighted beautifully the fragmentation of American society at this time and added another wonderful perspective to the narrative. I’ve read some fantastic books this year but seriously, this ranks up there with the very best of them. I can only give this story my highest recommendation.