Warning: This book review contains major spoilers for “Sweet” by Emmy Laybourne! If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, it won’t be here!
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Sweet” by Emmy Laybourne! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“Solu’s luxurious celebrity-filled Cruise to Lose is billed as “the best cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised – dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days – it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host Tom Forelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too sick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.
BUT WILL THEY DIE FOR IT, TOO?
Tom Forelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the chance to shed his childhood “Baby-Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a “romance” with a sexy reality-TV star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.
Emmy Laybourne, author of the Monument 14 trilogy, takes readers on a dream vacation that goes first comically, then tragically, then horrifyingly wrong.”
There are mentions of body-shaming and addiction throughout the book, as well as outright graphic violence (to the point of attempted cannibalism) in the second half of the book. Also, for those that regularly take sweetener/sugar-replacements, you might want to not read this book because it will certainly make you not want to take any, again.
Character Development: 4 out of 5 stars
I thought the individual character development was, overall, good, and especially so for the main two protagonists, Tom and Laurel. I sympathized with the pressure Tom felt to shed his previous childhood star image, as well as the stress he felt trying to not just be present on the ship to promote the Solu image and have good publicity by being with the reality-TV star he didn’t really like in general, but also how it all impacted his own actions and decisions to do what he genuinely wanted to do as a person, as well as how it affected his relationships with others (his family, his relationship with Laurel, etc.).
As for Laurel, I found myself sympathizing with her worries over her friend Vivika, as well as the self-body-shame that she felt as a chubbier person (and it doesn’t help that she has witnessed those sorts of body-shaming events of fellow women as well as the fact that Laurel is one of the least-celebrity-like people on this cruise), but I also love how she stood up for herself. When others made her uncomfortable (the kiss initially shared between her and Tom for publicity without her consent for example, as well as everyone being into Solu while she didn’t take any), she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind about that, and I really appreciated that as a reader. It’s also clear that she shares a close bond with Vivika, to the point of trying to save her even when she was deep in her addiction.
Unfortunately, most of the other characters fall flat in development, save for those closest to Tom and Laurel. If it wasn’t for how well-developed the main leads were, I might’ve dropped the rating for character development to three stars.
Plot Development: 3 out of 5 stars
The plot is incredibly fast-paced, but especially so in the latter half of the book. I quite enjoyed reading (and was equally horrified by) the slow descent of people first just being addicted to Solu’s taste, to straight-up needing it as a drug and soon losing their common sense to the point of attempted cannibalism (though thankfully, for the reader, that bit is only briefly shown). Unfortunately, the ending feels very unresolved, and the plot twist of the cruise going wrong actually being this giant experiment meant for literal destruction for someone else’s sadistic delights all along felt a bit random to put in.
Worldbuilding Development: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I liked the concept of Solu. I was also horrified by it, which I think was the point of the book. Solu acted well as a driving force in this book, given how quickly addictive the substance turned out to be, as well as how it literally altered people’s minds, and it affected not just the general safety of people on the ship, including the main characters, but also the main characters’ closest relations with the PR crew and with Vivika.
Though I felt that the scientific explanations of Solu in the book were understandable for the most part, I dislike how the bulk of it got shoved into the latter half of the book. To be fair, the plot reveal that this was all a massive experiment did help explain why there was such a large info-dump on the scientific explanations of Solu, but I still wish there was a way it could’ve been paced out better. I also still don’t understand why people turned to straight-up attempted cannibalism close to the end, as there was no explanation for that really given. All I can guess is that people genuinely lost their minds to the point of not even being able to distinguish what is food and what is people anymore, at that point. Either way, as I mentioned in the previous trigger warning section, for those that use sugar-replacements and want to read this book, you might be horrified into never taking any again if you do.
Romance Development: 4 out of 5 stars
Surprisingly, despite how fast the story takes place (a number of mere days on a cruise ship) for both Laurel and Tom, as well as how chaotic the plot events get, they actually develop a healthy romance in this book. Yes, Tom does non-consensually kiss Laurel early on in their interactions together, but Laurel does confront him about it pretty quickly afterwards and Tom does apologize for it and regrets it. This follows with the two of them having some much better interactions later on in their relationship, too. Despite Tom’s fame as a previous childhood star, he doesn’t let the fame go to his head and prioritizes Laurel’s feelings first in the developing relationship they share between them, even as he has to navigate a faked romance with another reality-TV star while stuck on the cruise-turning-into-massacre in the story.
The only other detractor from the romance, other than the kiss I mentioned earlier, is the fact that the two get physical pretty quickly. Nothing enough to turn into a full-on sex scene, which I think was a smart decision on the author’s part, given the chaos going on around them as well as the individual circumstances both were involved in (Tom was constantly watched by his PR team while Laurel was just trying not to get into social trouble in general on the cruise), but the heavy makeout sessions did feel a bit quick to get to for me, as a reader.
Overall, I’m rating this book 3.5 out of 5 stars!
If you’re interested in reading a diet-based cruise going very wrong, this is the read for you. Just be mindful of the triggers I mentioned. It’s definitely not something you want to read at night, especially when you get into the latter half of the book.
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