Book Review

Sizzle Reel

Sizzle Reel

  • Author: Carlyn Greenwald
  • Genre: Romance
  • Publication Date: April 18, 2023
  • Publisher: Vintage

Thank you to NetGalley and Vintage for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: biphobia, homophobia, public outing, misgendering

For aspiring cinematographer Luna Roth, coming out as bisexual at twenty-four is proving more difficult than she anticipated. Sure, her best friend and fellow queer Romy is thrilled for her–but she has no interest in coming out to her backwards parents, she wouldn’t know how to flirt with a girl if one fell at her feet, and she has no sexual history to build off. Not to mention she really needs to focus her energy on escaping her emotionally-abusive-but-that’s-Hollywood talent manager boss and actually get working under a real director of photography anyway.

When she meets twenty-eight-year-old A-list actress Valeria Sullivan around the office, Luna thinks she’s found her solution. She’ll use Valeria’s interest in her cinematography to get a PA job on the set of Valeria’s directorial debut–and if Valeria is as gay as Luna suspects, and she happens to be Luna’s route to losing her virginity, too . . . well, that’s just an added bonus. Enlisting Romy’s help, Luna starts the juggling act of her life–impress Valeria’s DP to get another job after this one, get as close to Valeria as possible, and help Romy with her own career moves.

But when Valeria begins to reciprocate romantic interest in Luna, the act begins to crumble–straining her relationship with Romy and leaving her job prospects precarious. Now Luna has to figure out if she can she fulfill her dreams as a filmmaker, keep her best friend, and get the girl. . . or if she’s destined to end up on the cutting room floor.

When I discovered that this was a book about a bisexual, Jewish character in Hollywood, I didn’t really have to read more to know I wanted it. But … maybe I should have read a little deeper into the plot summary. Because I seriously wanted to love this book so much, but it just wasn’t the best fit for me, and I was incredibly disappointed.

Luna is a late bloomer—she didn’t start hooking up with guys until she was older, hasn’t lost her virginity, and only came out as bisexual at the start of the book, at the age of 24. I could identify with her on so much of that, but she quickly lost me. She’s the type of character who is constantly in her head, and while I do think that mental health representation is so important to have in books, I also know that for me personally, I struggle with reading the thoughts of someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to live with the disorder, if simply reading a character’s thoughts in a book is stressful and draining for me. It does elicit plenty of empathy from me for Luna (and anyone else who has this disorder), but at the same time, this isn’t the kind of brain that I want to spend a lot of time hanging out in, if that makes sense? 

More than the anxiety, I was frustrated by the way that Luna fixates on certain things, turning to one specific person for support and ignoring not only everything that person says to her, but also not taking into account anything that is going on with that person or their own feelings. In this case, that would be her nonbinary friend Romy. It’s clear from early on that there is going to be a love triangle situation, which I have no idea how I missed, but absolutely isn’t a trope I enjoy in most books. But I couldn’t help also feeling more empathetic towards Romy for having to put up with Luna constantly pushing Romy’s concerns, thoughts, and feelings aside to ask questions that she’d only ignore the answers to. Like her constant fixation on losing her virginity, and what that means with a girl. 

The book spends a decent amount of time talking about the social construct of virginity, what different people consider “sex” to be, especially in a sapphic relationship, coming out, accepting one’s queerness, and perhaps what I found most interesting, a discussion on gender identity and how someone who identifies as nonbinary might feel most comfortable using different pronouns, rather than simply they/them. I felt like this was the strongest aspect of the book, especially where one character outs another inadvertently, as it happens in several different situations, and there’s also a discussion about revoking consent which is respected and handled beautifully. Luna’s Jewish heritage also comes up here and there, and I loved seeing it just pop into the story as it does.

The story takes place in Hollywood, and I wasn’t quite expecting things to be as technical as they were. There were a lot of abbreviations used, and I didn’t quite understand what they all were, so a lot of the time I just felt lost, but I also found myself having to go online at the end of the book to even find out what a sizzle reel was, since it’s never actually used in the book, so I found myself too curious to leave it unanswered. 

I felt like Valeria was hands down the most interesting character in the book, and while a lot of the story felt like it was slow-moving, I’d definitely read another book that focused more on Valeria’s story, because she was a fun and intriguing character, and I would love to see her get her own story (preferably not another love triangle, though). Overall, the relationships between Luna and the male characters in the story felt really flat—the conversations she had with her brother felt like what I’d see in a YA book, but on the young end of the spectrum, while Wyatt just seemed to be there to further the plot and didn’t really function as a full character in his own right, which was disappointing. I was truly hoping to love this book and rate it higher, but I think it just wasn’t the right fit for me, and everything felt a little too predictable. Plus, all the Gen Z speak went a bit over my head and left me feeling … really old.

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