Hibbert is one of my favourite authors. If you haven’t read anything by her, stop reading this and pick up literally any of her books. She writes characters and stories that celebrate (not aknowledge or tolerate) variety of race, gender, sexuality, ability and neuro-diversity. She doesn’t trap her characters in the cage of their diversity badges but she also doesn’t underplay their importance. It’s a very fine line and she walks it elegantly. They get to be actual, fully formed human beings. Her books are funny, witty, smart, sweet, and feature a lot of abrasive, loving women, which is my favourite kind. She also puts trigger warnings on all her books so her readers know what they’re getting into and anyway I can’t with this woman.
Case in point – That Kind of Guy. It is the third of the Ravenswood books and I’ll be honest, the weakest. You don’t need to read the previous books but you should because they are fantastic. I’ll quote Hibbert’s trigger warning for you:
Please be aware: this book contains depictions of emotional abuse and mentions of unwanted sexual encounters that could trigger certain audiences.
What an accurate, gentle way to protect her readers. I cannot with this woman. If these raise issues for you, stop reading this review now because those themes are basically all I talk about.
Our main players are:
- Something Rae (her first name is secret for much of the book because she’s embarrassed by it), a 40 year old woman recovering from a brutal divorce by moving to Ravenswood and becoming a Cool Divorcee version of herself in a Fake It Till You Make It attitude for recovery. She has a dog. His name is Duke. He is excellent. Very dog. 13/10.
- Zach Davis, a 28 year old welding artist(?) just coming to terms with being demisexual (on the asexual spectrum, a person only attracted to people they form a deep emotional connection to) after years of sleeping around because he has trouble saying “no” to people.
So you have one person who has lost the ability to trust people with even something as small as her first name and one who is learning to accept himself by honouring his sexuality and only sharing himself with people who share of themselves. I’m a big fan of stories that create tension from internal conflict, so the set up is Nart catnip.
They do the whole fake relationship thing to help get her through a convention but the plot doesn’t really matter.
I think this novel does a lot of things really well.
It engages with the concept of consent in a far more nuanced way than you generally see, whether it is in romance novels or out in the Real World. Early on, Rae gets drunk and pretty obnoxiously hits on Zach because hey he’s the town bicycle and she needs to pop her post-divorce sex cherry. She is very slow to take no for an answer and triggers a full on panic attack in Zach. This is not okay. The book handles this situation beautifully.
It shows the mix of guilt and rejection of the person who pushed too far without excusing the behaviour. She does apologise (with home made brownies even) and her apology isn’t just a “sorry I went too far” but a serious reflection of what caused her behaviour. She makes it clear that she was in the wrong and will never do that again. And boy is she tested, but she holds true to her word and I respect that. It’s also important to acknowledge that women can be the unwanted aggressor in a situation, and that the obligations don’t differ based on gender.
That isn’t all though. We also see Zach trying to rationalize the behaviour away because they’re friends and he really likes her and he doesn’t want her to be a super gross, objectifying asshole so it must be his fault somehow. In fact, when she comes to aplogise, he apologises to her for freaking out. I think it’s really important to engage with this kind of thinking because it is not uncommon. Victims often feel like they did something to deserve what happened. Rae shuts that shit down cold because she knows it’s on her and I honestly think the way this is handled is genuinely, genuinely important. It shows a way to move forward from a bad situation in a way that doesn’t minimize the conduct but doesn’t cancel a person for making a mistake (of course, the level of bad behaviour here is pretty low – this kind of resolution would not work if things escalated further).
While Zach has been rationalizing away being used physically for years, Rae has been rationalizing away being used emotionally for years. Essentially, every major entity in Rae’s life had been emotionally abusive, to a point where she literally did not understand forms of love that “don’t hurt.” Oof. Right in the feels, girl. I think some readers may be frustrated by how hard it is for her to really, fully trust another person, even one trying SO HARD to earn that trust. I think readers who know firsthand what that feels like will be surprised at how quickly she was able to move forward. She doesn’t realize how toxic her relationships are in the same way that Zach didn’t understand how toxic his relationships had been. Watching her process it, realize she deserved better, and facing the people who hurt her is absolutely cathartic. Not every relationship can be saved. Cutting toxic people is hard and it leaves scars and you don’t always get everything you deserve and Hibbert does not shy away from these really complicated, nuanced issues.
In the end, while I liked a lot of it, the book didn’t work for me as a romance. When we meet them, Rae and Zach have been friends for a few months. They’re part of a weekly hang with mutual friends and see each other briefly every day because his work is on her dog walk route. She doesn’t know where he lives. There is no indication that they are more than friendly. Then she hits on him and he shuts her down. Next thing you know they’re in I Would Go To Jail For Murder For You. I found the intensity and speed hard to swallow. And since these folks are going through so much, their ability to communicate seemed to fluctuate based on the needs of the story rather than the characters. Since the entire story relies on internal conflict, and because the foundation didn’t ring true, much of their conflict didn’t ring true either. If you don’t mind (near) instalove, this may not be an issue for you.
Anyway. Read literally any of her books. It honestly doesn’t matter. They are lovely and sweet and funny and absolutely appalled that you might not realize what a goddamn gift to the world you are, even if you’re still finding your way. There are better ones, but this one isn’t bad either.