Gut-wrenching, clever, and undeniably 😉 honest.
Isabel Kaplan graduated from Harvard and holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU. She is the author of the national bestselling young adult novel Hancock Park and a co-founder of Project 100, an organization launched after the 2016 election to support progressive women running for Congress. She previously worked in TV drama development at Fox Broadcasting Company. Isabel was born and raised in Los Angeles.
I love how real this book, NSFW (Not Safe For Work) felt. Having personally experienced a somewhat similar environment as the book’s anonymous protagonist, it was easy for me to picture the day-to-day rat race—bullshit bureaucracy, toxicity, and harassment—in the office setting, which is so effortlessly described throughout. If you’ve worked in corporate America, you’ve probably experienced or at least witnessed some level of coercion and/or complicity. And for such a serious subject matter, Kaplan lifted the tension with moments of dark humor, allowing the reader to take a much-needed breath. One of the most disturbing relationships in the book was between the protagonist and her mother. A toxic bond filled with emotional manipulation, invalidation, and gaslighting—something that affected the core of the MC. Keeping her mother happy is a full-time job, one that at times, overshadows her own sense of self-awareness, and fogs her ability to advocate for what she truly wants.
I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve personally connected to over the last two years, and NSFW is now one of them. I rank it alongside two of my favorites: Luster by Raven Leilani and Animal by Lisa Taddeo—two of my auto-buy authors.
So many scenes stick out but one that touched my heart describes the MC searching through boxes in her father’s garage when she comes across old home videos. She watches one of herself as a child in which her mother teaches her how to mount a plastic blue rocking horse to show her Nana “what a great rider” she is. She stumbles around the toy, timid at first until her mother successfully coaxes her on. After which she’s rocking back and forth saying, “See! I didn’t break anything! I’m not breaking anything!” I found this scene so symbolic and indicative of a child raised in the clutches of a narcissistic parent. A child who walks on eggshells and quickly learns to sacrifice her own needs in order to keep the peace. (A theme echoed in every chapter of NSFW.) But in order to retain a sense of her own moral principles, she must decide if silence is worth success, or if speaking the truth will break recurring toxic patterns and finally set her free.
5/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I recommend to readers who enjoy dark subjects in a corporate setting, compelling female protagonists, electrifying prose, and psychological themes.
Published July 5th, 2022
From the outside, the unnamed protagonist in NSFW appears to be the vision of success. She has landed an entry-level position at a leading TV network that thousands of college grads would kill for. And sure, she has much to learn. The daughter of a prominent feminist attorney, she grew up outside the industry. But she’s resourceful and hardworking. What could go wrong?
At first, the high adrenaline work environment motivates her. Yet as she climbs the ranks, she confronts the reality of creating change from the inside. Her points only get attention when echoed by male colleagues; she hears whispers of abuse and sexual misconduct. Her mother says to keep her head down until she’s the one in charge―a scenario that seems idealistic at best, morally questionable at worst. When her personal and professional lives collide, threatening both the network and her future, she must decide what to protect: the career she’s given everything for or the empowered woman she claims to be.
Fusing page-turning prose with dark humor and riveting commentary on the truths of starting out professionally, Isabel Kaplan’s NSFW is an unflinching exploration of the gray area between empowerment and complicity. The result is a stunning portrait of what success costs in today’s patriarchal world, asking us: Is it ever worth it?