Editor’s note: Catherine passed away suddenly last week, and we will miss her very, very much. This is her last review for us. May her memory be a blessing. 

Content warning: Savannah’s family is low-grade terrible. Also, there is an instance of workplace sexual harassment which gets shut down fairly fast by the boss, but might be triggering for some.

Meet Me In the Margins is a sweet, funny, epistolary novel about writing and publishing and getting out of your own head.

Savannah is an editor at a very highbrow literary publishing house, and she is also secretly working on the manuscript of her romance novel. When she accidentally leaves it in her hidey-hole at work, and comes back to see that someone has left editorial commentary in the margins, she is initially mortified. But when her manuscript is rejected with very similar commentary, she decides to ask her Mystery Editor for help.

I’m always a fan of stories where two people are writing to each other but they don’t know who they are writing to, and one thing that made this story particularly enjoyable for me is that Savannah and her Mystery Editor (who we shall call M.E. for the purposes of spoiler avoidance) don’t hate each other. Quite often with this trope, the secret correspondent turns out to be the real-life nemesis, and it was a pleasant change to find that Savannah and M.E. actually rather liked each other and were attracted to each other in real life.

Instead, the tension in this story comes from the fact that while the M.E. knows exactly whose work he is editing, Savannah thinks that her correspondent is someone completely different. A Big Misunderstanding, in other words, but one that works, because their written interactions are such a delicious game that I can absolutely understand why neither of them wants to spoil it.

I also enjoyed the way the processes of writing and editing were depicted. I could absolutely relate to Savannah endlessly tweaking and editing and correcting her story until it was unrecognisable. I also loved the way her own experience of being edited made her think differently about her own editing. It’s important to Savannah to be a ‘nice’ editor but there’s a balance between being direct enough to be useful, and framing critiques in a way that an author will be able to hear without becoming so defensive that the critiques are no longer useful. Reading this story, I found myself thinking about the relationship between writer and editor, and the ways in which the qualities of a good editor might mirror those of a good romantic partner. After all, writing can be a very personal thing, and letting someone read the unedited work of your imagination requires a good deal of trust.

Speaking of the writer/editor relationship, I thoroughly enjoyed the progression in the marginalia from impersonal:

Slow beginning. Get to the meat. Give readers a reason to stay. If you bore them, you lose them. Awkward word choice?

Drop this paragraph.

To friendly:

He sounds like a serial killer.

Furthermore, what two people stand there murmuring delightedly about their drinks in the pickup line at a coffee shop? Illogical.

And for the love of all, pick different names. This is not an opera. You can have Renaldo. You can have Cecilia. You cannot have both.

To flirtatious:

– Okay, okay, I get it. I’ll take out the blind-date scene. But geez, that’s pretty embarrassing Mystery E.

– Then I trust you can keep that little secret between you and me.

– Or use it in my next manuscript…

– You wouldn’t dare.

– Wouldn’t I?

– Not if I’m editing it…

Because by this stage they are leaving the manuscript for each other several times a day and using the margins as much for conversation as for editorial notes.

OK, so now I want to talk about the relationship, which means – spoiler! – I need to talk about who the Mystery Editor is. Which, honestly, I think most readers will guess within twenty seconds, because we know how romance novels work, but just in case, here be spoilers, spoilers ahoy!

Show Spoiler

So the Mystery Editor is Will Pennington, who has recently started working as a senior editor at the company where Savannah is an editorial assistant. He is not her direct boss… but he is her boss’s boss. And also the son of the founder and director of the company.

And look, Will is quite lovely, in a buttoned-down, Mr Darcy sort of way, and it’s clear that he is the sort of boss who cares about his employees and wants to make sure they are looked after and happy in their work. But nonetheless, I was really, really uncomfortable with the professional ethics of this situation. Savannah doesn’t report to him directly, but he seeks her out several times to chat about how she thinks things are going at the company, and makes personnel decisions *about her direct supervisors* based at least in part on her judgment, which YIKES.

I mean, they seem to be good personnel decisions, but then again, this book is told in the first person from Savannah’s point of view so they probably would look like good personnel decisions to her. (Somewhere, Alison at Ask A Manager is getting a migraine, and she doesn’t know why.)

The situation is every so slightly mitigated by the fact that the actual romance between Savannah and Will doesn’t happen until the last few pages at the book, at which point she is about to become a published author and I think not quite so directly in his chain of command, but it wasn’t clear whether she would still be working as an editor as well.

It all felt a little bit uncomfortable.

Speaking of the fact that the book is told from Savannah’s point of view, it’s also worth noting that we don’t really see much of Will’s character arc. Will is clearly attracted to Savannah from the start, but we don’t get to see many details as his feelings develop.

There are some really delightful bits of comedy in this story. I wasn’t a fan of the meet cute at the start, mostly because I recently broke my ankle in a manner that was so similar to this scene that I had to read it three times to assure myself that Savannah had just fallen over, no harm done. But I loved pretty much every scene involving Savannah’s friend Lyla, and there is a pretty glorious sequence at a court house on Valentine’s Day which I will not spoil for you, but which I think is one of Will’s kindest and funniest moments in the entire book.

I also have to tell you that the ending is CHEESY SO SO SO SO CHEESY AND MADE OF CHEESE.

Very sweet cheese.

(Cheesecake?)

(No, really not cheesecake – this is a closed door romance, we’ll be having no naughtiness here!)

Overall, this was a really fun read, especially if you enjoy stories about writers and writing. I liked the humour, and I really enjoyed the friendship between M.E. and Savannah. While I had some (ok, many) misgivings about their professional relationship, I found their romantic relationship both convincing and charming.

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