I went into Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert with certain expectations. 1) It will have a fat-positive plot starring a black woman. 2) It’s set in England. 3) There will be a “bucket list” to getting a life that will cause misunderstanding. 4) This will be a rom-com/meet-cute type of book. 5) Chloe will have a chronic disability. I only got a few of these correct.
Chloe Brown is a wealthy woman in her 30s who lives with her parents and dramatic granny. She feel smothered by these adults, and her two younger sisters, because they’re always worried that her fibromyalgia makes her vulnerable. To move on with her life, she creates a list of things she wants to do but would never, and the first is move out. She does.
Enter “Red,” her landlord at the new flat. He’s a ginger-headed brick house of a dude who loves to paint and rides a motorcycle. Of course, Chloe and Red hate each other at first and then fall in love in the process of Red helping Chloe check the to-do’s off her list. That’s sort of a meet-cute, right? And it’s definitely set in England!
Everything else gets very muddled for me.
1) It will have a fat-positive plot starring a black woman. This is true and yet not. On the fluffy romance cover, Chloe is definitely fat. But in the book — and I watch for this sort of thing — her fat body is only acknowledged twice. She is “big boned, and well insulated for winter.” She is also described as “soft, soft all over, from the gentle weight of her full breasts to the lush roundness of her belly. . .” Other than that, you could forget that Chloe is supposed to be fat. In fact, Red is constantly picking her up to carry her, and while viewed as sweet in traditional romantic films and books, isn’t often an option when one or both people are fat. And that’s okay, but let’s not pretend like carrying your sweetheart around is the ultimate sign of love. Logically? Using our brains, we can deduce that despite a person’s strength, carrying a fat body would require some freakishly long arms to avoid dropping the other person. And getting her into her bedroom? Through the door frame? I’d like to see writers respect the reality of fat bodies and not make them fit into a thin narrative when it’s cute.
I did appreciate the way Red adjusted his expectations of Chloe due to her disability. Not in a mean way, but accepting of who she is. I often get frustrated with “issues fiction,” and Get a Life, Chloe Brown didn’t read like that. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t learn until I was an adult for many years that I need to approach everyone differently, file them all differently, in my head. My memory of people’s preferences for treatment has grown strong. The adage to treat everyone the same is nice on the surface, but doesn’t work.
But her race? I could easily forget Chloe’s race. Why do I bring up the color of her skin? Can’t she just be a person, not a black person? It’s because Red’s is described so much. His liquid fire hair (what does that mean?), his pale skin, the golden-red down on his legs and arms. His hair. Did I mention his red hair? He touches his hair a lot. Red’s whiteness is unforgettable, as if his looks tell us something about him that Chloe’s looks don’t tell us about her. She’s all hostile personality.
4) This will be a rom-com/meet-cute type of book. I was super wrong. Hibbert, I now know after looking at the covers of her other novels, is not a rom-com writer. There was so much graphic sex, which is delightful if you want to get some inspiration for your bedroom. But you would be surprised by the way Red’s language leans toward porn dialogue when he’s pleasuring Chloe. All those words to describe female genitals that make most women feel objectified? Yeah, they’re all in there. It was disconcerting to go from Red helping Chloe out of a tree after she rescues a cat to erotica. What a marketing team behind this novel; kudos on sneaking it into the hand’s of women who wouldn’t pick up books like Hibbert’s Undone by the Ex-Con.
But not only has Hibbert taken erotica and tucked it into a meet-cute. She also woven in a toxic relationship. Red’s former girlfriend built him up and then gaslighted him to the point of causing psychological damage. The author includes a content warning for this toxic relationship, and we explore what happened and how it affected Red’s perception of his situation with Chloe, making him behave irrationally and out of fear.
The focus is on him again. However, Chloe had a fiance who walked out on her because he thought she was faking her fibromyalgia symptoms — also gaslighting. Not much is made of her ex-fiance, except Chloe thinks she shouldn’t make new friends or date anyone because they’ll walk away, too. Fairly simplistic, and cliched in the romance genre, compared to the deep psychological damage Red history is afforded. Chloe’s ex is a jerk, whereas Red’s past needs understanding and a therapist. Again, I was surprised that the focus was on the male character in this novel for women. Personally, I found it distracting.
Overall, Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a mixed bag. Predictable at times, yet surprising in others. Highly sexual, but sweet in places. Fat-positive without the bodies. A well-handled depiction of treating people with chronic disability with respect, yet she’s carried around. It’s male-focused women’s fiction. I will say that I read the book completely and didn’t mind picking it up. I’m just not sure to whom I would recommend it. If Hibbert’s novel were a beverage, it would be SmutTea (Shell’s blog inspires me).