I absolutely adored Act Your Age, Eve Brown. I *think* Take a Hint, Dani Brown is my favorite of the Brown sisters series, but this one certainly gave it a run for its money.
In similar fashion to Get a Life, Chloe Brown we are in an enemies to lovers romance (which has grown on me considerably over the past few years) but in Hibbert’s hands it’s really much closer “you annoy me but once I actually get to know you I’m enamored of you” zone, but Eve and Jacob definitely have a rough, ROUGH meet cute in which Jacob ends up hit by the car Eve is driving and breaking his wrist, bruising his tailbone, and getting a concussion.
But let’s back up a second. When the book opens Eve has successfully planned her friend’s wedding, but a small (okay, maybe large) incident of freeing some doves, and the emotional fall out of the bride being livid, not to mention the dove handler, Eve does what she does – cut and run. This proves the final straw for her parents since Eve at 26 has never held down a job for a year. They freeze her access to her trust fund so that she will have to act her age and be “serious”. As they don’t trust her to be able to do it herself, they each have lined up a job for her at their respective respectable jobs. Eve doesn’t fit into that mold, she’s often the odd one out amongst her family, and takes off for parts unknown to clear her head and come up with her own plan.
What she stumbles across is Jacob Wayne, his B&B, and a job interview for the position as the cook. It all goes terribly – see previous list of Jacob’s injuries – but it also goes well enough that Eve takes on the job and promises to stay until Jacob is well again and has a chance to find a legitimate replacement. Instead, as is the way of Romance novels, these two seeming opposites find a balance between them and a deep and growing affection and attraction.
What I love most about Act Your Age is that as a book, it is kind. All the books in this series are kind, they are kind to the reader and to the characters. Kindness is like catnip for me, especially now. Jacob and Eve are so unfailingly generous with each other even when they are convinced they don’t actually like each other (which doesn’t last long). There’s a line in the book that might be the most romantic thing I think I’ve ever seen a protagonist say that doesn’t initially appear romantic. Eve has built her modus operandi under the understanding that she is going to fail at things, all the things, all the time. Jacob however sees that is not true, but even if it is he just needs her to try. Reader, I cried.
Neurodivergence is the text, not the subtext, of this novel. Jacob is on the autism spectrum, we as the reader are given that information right at the beginning as well as how Jacob views the world and his way through it. We also are given hints along the way that Eve is also on the spectrum (something she comes to later, having never been diagnosed formally in her younger years, which is incredibly common for women and people of color). All the idiosyncrasies that Eve exhibited in the previous books are building here, and it’s a very nuanced approach. I especially appreciated how Jacob doesn’t ever correct Eve’s malapropisms (she often can’t find the exact word she wants and ends up using something similar but not quite right), he fills in if she gets stuck or asks, but if she uses one he just mentally makes the change to what he knows she means and keeps going. Its so affirming for Eve, and something that no one else in her life has done for her. Kindness!
Also, as someone who is neurodivergent the ways that Eve has built in her coping mechanisms without quite realizing why rang true for me. Hibbert continues to deliver diversity that makes me feel seen. These characters have deep interior lives and Hibbert handles their emotions beautifully. Eve receives a crash course in running the B&B through Jacob’s big pile of employee handbooks (that he only ever intended for himself) and comes to understand how important order, a clear system, and predictability is for Jacob. She appreciates his neurodiversity; she recognizes it and makes room for it in her approach. Jacob, similarly, sees the places where Eve excels (especially when she doesn’t) and puts value and gives reassurance that skills and aptitudes that are not generally viewed as important by the larger society are in fact just that if they matter to how we treat others, and reinforces that again and again.
My only drawback is that I don’t think the book needed its third act break-up. There had been enough starts (the duck pond scene is EVERYTHING) and stops along the path to the relationship where I wasn’t expecting it, and it felt oddly overdramatic. Not that I’m ever going to be sad for an excuse to see the couples from the previous books, but I would have loved to see the version without the blow-up and instead focus on the slow and steady building of trust that had been the backbone of the story to that point.
All that said, this is still a 4.5 rounded up because Hibbert delivered a nearly flawless emotionally enriching novel that I am going to purchase for myself after I return the library copy currently sitting on my coffee table mocking me for taking four days to write this review.
(It should be noted that this book comes with a content warning for anti-autism ableism and childhood neglect).