When I finished Get a Life, Chloe Brown earlier this month I immediately requested Take a Hint, Dani Brown from the library – the reading experience had been that good. When I finished Take a Hint this week, I did the same thing for Act Your Age, Eve Brown and it is currently waiting for me at my local library branch. Talia Hibbert has written some of my favorite reading experiences of the year thus far in this series and I imagine I will be revisiting this story in future.
Hibbert is writing diversely representative characters, simply because these types of characters deserve to be seen. Take a Hint features Danika Brown and Zafir Ansari and they possess some of the very diversity that makes me felt seen, and Hibbert handles it all deftly (CW: general anxiety disorder, on page panic attack, past death of close family members). These characters have deep interior lives and Hibbert handles their emotions beautifully, while not being afraid to be funny.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown delivers what I think Lau was after in The Professor Next Door which I read back to back with this one. Both share a female protagonist who has serious emotional baggage surrounding romantic relationship failures that have led them to eschew romantic partnerships in exchange for hook-ups and friends with benefits arrangements as well as male protagonists who willing go along with that scenario, even if it isn’t exactly what they have in mind as they are the first to fall romantically. What Tibbert excels at (not that Lau is a slouch in this department) is creating such human characters that the reading experience is rich and deeply satisfying.
Because what we get is two very lovable and complicated protagonists with satisfying characters arcs, even though not much happens in this book, the big plot points are all emotional. When the novel starts Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom. What Dani gets is Zaf, the security guard in her university’s building whom she has been developing a friendship with over the past few months (my heart swooned at Dani bringing Zaf coffee each morning and Zaf having protein bars at the ready for her since she’s not great about stopping to eat). When Zaf rescues Dani during a drill gone wrong in a highly dramatic way it makes its way to social media and goes viral, with the adorable if slightly inaccurate #DrRugBae. With his niece’s push Zaf proposes to Dani that they lean into these 15 minutes of fame because its having excellent returns for his sports charity which works with boys on being in touch with their emotions and working against toxic masculinity in sports. Dani agrees to faking a relationship with Zaf, easily done as they are already friends, but realizes quickly that she also wants to have an arrangement that includes orgasms as well.
I wasn’t expecting this book to remind me of another I read last year, Sajni Patel’s The Trouble with Hating You which also features a difficult woman. In some ways it’s a persona Dani has built over trauma, in other ways its honestly who she is. She’s strong and forceful and successful and it all took work and determination to make happen. Dani doesn’t see herself as loveable, in fact has been certain of that fact since her failed earlier relationships and in turn built walls around her emotional self. It becomes the linchpin of the final act, that Dani must realize that Zaf’s love for her can be real, as can hers for him. I like difficult women, I like books that deal with realistic representations of what being a modern woman often looks like, and I love romantic heroes who love these difficult women with those attributes, not in spite of them.
Hibbert writes about living with emotions. I loved Dani, but I may have loved Zaf more. The fact that Hibbert weaves in that Zaf reads romance novels in order to help cope with his anxiety as well as just the fact that he enjoys the guaranteed happy ending? Just so lovely. Hibbert even put together a list of Zaf’s recommendations for an interview written in his voice. Why isn’t this book a movie already? The powers that be are sleeping on getting Hibbert’s books turned into awesome R rated rom coms.