Cartoon drawing of a pool with a woman writing in a notebook on one end and a man typing on a computer at the other end.

About the Book

Title: The Roughest Draft
Published: 2022
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

First Impressions: Want Everything She Has
What’s Your Type?
 Friends to enemies to lovers, living your passion, emotional cheating, forced proximity, second-chance at happiness, beachy settings
The Lean:
 Soulmates
We Need to Talk:
 A Serious Turn
Was It Good For You? 
Let’s Workshop That

First Impressions: Want Everything She Has

Berkley Books is the same publishing house for Emily Henry, who has had fantastic success with her romance hits of the last two years, so it’s no surprise that they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again by evoking very similar aspects with this cover. It’s bright, it’s beachy, it’s bold. It’s an amalgamation of the little people reading separately from Beach Read and the palm fronds from People We Meet on Vacation.

What’s Your Type?

  • Friends to enemies to lovers
  • Living your passion
  • Emotional cheating
  • Forced proximity
  • Second-chance at happiness
  • Beachy settings

Dating Profile

The first half of our writing duo, Katrina Freeling, is brilliant and a bit neurotic. Her anxiety is getting the best of her, and I think we can all understand that life can be so overwhelming that sometimes the hardest decision you want to make in a day is simply “what Netflix show should I put on?” When we meet Katrina, she’s spent the last four years NOT writing, even though it’s her passion, because she’s let her fears (and her agent-turned-fiancé, Chris) control her life.

Nathan Van Huysen, on the other hand, cannot breathe if he cannot write SOMETHING every day, even the day his father died or when he signed his divorce papers two years ago. Writing and success can be easy, he believes, and he’s never more confident than with a pen in hand. He’s tried going solo sans Katrina over the last four years, but his publisher declines his second solo book option because his latest just doesn’t sparkle the way his books written with Katrina do.

Meet Cute

Katrina and Nathan met at a writer’s retreat six years ago and instantly realized that together they had something special. No—not that way; they never had a relationship or an affair, despite what some tawdry gossip columnists would insinuate, but their writing together created magic. (Nathan was engaged when they met and married during their writing partnership.) Together they inspired and pushed each other to new heights, and fans of the books made them smashing bestsellers.

But something happened between them at the end of their writing retreat four years ago and they’ve refused to speak since. Except Nathan won’t get published alone anymore. And Katrina’s fiancé has spent more money than he should, and is desperate for the payout if they fulfill the final book from their publishing contract. So despite their misgivings about being in each other’s company, Nathan and Katrina hole up in a beachy bungalow in Florida and are about to spend two solid months trapped together dredging up old memories.

The Lean: Soulmates

From While You Were Sleeping, Bill Pullman explains attraction to Sandra Bullock

We get flashbacks to four years ago as the writing slowly unfolds exactly what went “wrong” between Katrina and Nathan. Nathan was married at the time, so they never crossed that line physically, but it’s clear in the camaraderie they share and the intimacy of the notes scrawled across the bottom of their shared pages of writing that something is brewing.

Contrasted to the present, when they, at first, can barely stand to look at each other or be in the same room. As they form an uneasy truce so they can actually do what they went there to do, you see fits and starts of the understanding they used to share.

If you’re about lingering looks and people who refuse to say what they’re feeling because they have a whole host of anxieties but are clearly so perfect for each other it’s painful, then you’ll probably really enjoy this. It’s going to completely frustrate others who are looking for something more straightforward, less emotionally fraught, and with a lot more heat.

Dirty Talk

There are some amusing moments when Katrina and Nathan are feeling alternately awkward and turned on as they have to co-write sex scenes and their banter during their own is cute-sexy, but all of the sex in this book is very PG-13. I am curious to know how awkward this IRL writing couple felt as they did this book, and if that’s why we got a mostly implied but not explicit scene, or if they just don’t want to do raunchy, but either way, here’s a taste:

While I touch him , his mouth moves to my neck, causing me to arch my back into the contact. His fingers slide to my stomach, then sink lower, stroking me over the fabric of my shorts. I close my eyes. Knowing it’s Nathan’s fingers slowing undoing me, Nathan’s lips meeting mine, feels like fiction— the kind you read with a hand between your legs, not the kind you get to taste on your tongue.

Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose

Teacher types on laptop while talking to student
Typing a romance novel on a computer screen

Nathan’s chapters, especially, are a bevy of writing metaphors. He’s a snarky, passionate person and writing is how he expresses his feelings he won’t put into physical speech, so his internal thoughts are often either very purple or couched in literary terms. Just take this confession he writes in the voice of a character:

Writing alongside you is my greatest joy. Is it greedy to want more? You’ve changed every hope and dream I’ve ever chased—revised them to something smaller and yet more infinite. I want to write our lives together, K. To make each of my days a page written in your hand. To craft the chapters of my future with you in every word. Because I’ve realized a life lived with you is the best story I could ever tell.

It’s so nerdy it’s cute. I confess I spent a lot of time wondering how similar and dissimilar the real writers are to their fictional counterparts. Katrina’s thoughts were more rigid and controlling in regards to her life and writing, because she was so repressed it hurt. She is known to be the more concise and direct writer of the two, and it did show in her thoughts, which was a cool stylistic choice.

We Need To Talk: A Serious Turn

I am so curious to see what the general response is to this book, because I think it’s going to be very “love it or hate it”. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka’s YA style is very snappy, witty, thoughtful-but-relatable, and this HAD all those things, but it was more introspective and serious, as, obvs, the subject matter was a bit more grown-up and personal. The first part was harder to get through than the rest of the novel, when Katrina and Nathan were just so resentful of each other and you’re sitting there thinking, like, why even bother, please go find your joy elsewhere.

Some may be turned off by the cheating aspects no matter how nuanced or layered they are, and I get it. I don’t prefer stories with cheating myself, but I think they did a good job addressing it, and I do give some more leeway, personally, to the kind of emotional cheating that was going on in this story. It did cause both of them a lot of angst because they weren’t intentionally going into their writing partnership with this in mind, and they did rectify both of their situations as they arose relatively quickly. I do believe you can find that person who “gets you” at any point in your life and it does happen to suck when you’re already married to a perfectly lovely person. In the present, with Katrina’s fiancé, he’s pretty villainous from the start, so not that it’s “okay” to emotionally cheat on him, but it’s clear these two are completely wrong for each other.

To turn the topic in a completely different direction, I have some notes on this line from Nathan:

On the front porch, the sunlight warms my skin wonderfully. It’s sweaty in Key Largo, but not in the ways I mind. Not the sweat of walking in the city in your heaviest coat, or of elevators in summer. Florida’s is like after-sex sweat.

Whichever of the duo wrote this line—are you one of those people who is always cold and thus “enjoys” the heat? Because I can GUARANTEE YOU: I have never felt the Florida humidity in the middle of July and had ANY remotely sexy thoughts. I cringe when my husband tries to lovingly touch my back when we’re walking outside because it causes my shirt to stick to me and UGH, NO.

Was It Good For You? Let’s Workshop That

Matthew Broderick saying "it's kind of hot."

I’ll be honest and say this was not my favorite book from this duo, and it’s in large part to the insular, sometimes suffocating feelings between Katrina and Nathan. I think the authors did what they set out to do well because, geez, sometimes I wanted to shake the characters by the shoulders and tell them to lighten the hell up. Stop standing in your own way! And I’m sure that was precisely their intention. But as far the book making my heart pound, it was more from the anxiety it was giving me before the happy ending than the fun anticipation of the happy outcome.

I think it’s worth picking up if you like a “hard-won” romance, love a good montage of the act of writing, and don’t go into it thinking it’s a perfectly light beach read.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Berkley Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Roughest Draft is available tomorrow.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.