GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN by Talia Hibbert

get-a-life-chloe-brown-remakeGet a Life, Chloe Brown begins with the titular character getting almost run over by a car, a sudden brush with death that, combined with a number of other issues she’s been dealing with, compel Chloe to, as the cover exclaims, get a LIFE. Type A person that she is, Chloe goes about this by making a list of the things she believes constitute a full, well-rounded life. The entries ranging from the momentous (move out of parent’s house; travel the world) to the positively frivolous (enjoy a drunken night out; have meaningless sex).⠀

It’s a pretty great beginning.

Chloe immediately begins checking off items by moving into her own flat in London, in a building managed by our other protagonist and inevitable love interest, Red — tall, literally ginger my god Hibbert, and handsome — a former painter who has withdrawn from the art world. Their relationship starts off, in classic rom-com fashion, as positively hostile: Chloe finds him an uncouth oaf; Red finds her a spoiled, standoffish brat. A series of mishaps and circumstances soon lead both characters to come together, however, with Chloe agreeing to build Red a website that will hopefully rekindle interest in his neglected art career, and Red helping Chloe get through her Get a Life list.⠀

It’s a pretty great set-up. You do worry for a moment that their frenemy dynamic might end up overstaying its welcome, but, refreshingly, it begins to break down and evolve only a couple of chapters in, as the stimulating chemistry between Chloe and Red softens their respective distant and defensive exteriors. Which is when they realize they’re also helping one another in entirely unexpected ways.⠀

—⠀

I don’t tend to pick up many romance novels, although I quite like the few that I have read. The works of Rainbow Rowell and Stephanie Perkins quickly come to mind. But while their novels are certainly full of love and all its clutter, they tend to slant more towards the emotional side of the romantic spectrum. Chloe Brown decidedly leans toward the other end. The physical end. Whereas a lot of stories with romantic plots often leave you wanting to shout “would you just kiss already” at the stubborn, exasperating characters, Chloe Brown simply skips all that noise and just goes straight into the more risqué aspects of courtship. I was surprised but amused by how quickly — and frankly how often — the book got down to this sort of business. There are enough steamy scenes to fill up several saunas.

Which isn’t to say there’s no emotion to be found in this novel. Meaningless sex may be an item on Chloe’s list, but, as she also realizes, things aren’t always so straightforward, and people often carry their emotional baggage with them. Our main characters being no different.⠀

Chloe, for one thing, lives with fibromyalgia, and while she’s developed a myriad of methods to manage it, emotionally, it’s taken a toll. As is often the case with invisible illnesses, non-disabled people struggle to sympathize with those who deal with them. They can get, as Chloe puts it at one point, “bored with lists and rain checks and careful coping mechanisms.” And, sometimes, they leave. Which is where we find Chloe at the beginning: determined and resolute, but lonely.⠀

We find Red in a like manner. Dealing with his own trust issues stemming from the fallout of a particularly ruinous relationship that left him feeling adrift and uncertain about his life. That this former partner was, like Chloe, affluent, only adds to his inner turmoil, his more modest background having been a constant issue before.⠀

How Chloe and Red deal with these knotty circumstances is nothing if not compelling. How they support one another is, frankly, adorable. How they fall for one another is just thoroughly sweet and, indeed, quite sexy. The development of their relationship might seem a little rushed, but it’s believable, and you quickly root for them.

I’m doing it for you because that’s how people should behave; they should fill in each other’s gaps.

Mental health and chronic illness. Class conflict. Toxic relationships and their aftermaths. These are all complicated subjects that can prove too much for any single story to handle, but Chloe Brown does so with thoughtfulness and tact, and it’s what impressed me the most about this “kissing book.”⠀

They are also subjects that can weigh down a story, casting a somber shadow over even the most lighthearted of comedies. Chloe Brown avoids this hazard by boasting a small but well-realized and obscenely charismatic cast of characters. Because not only do both protagonists read as real, actual people, the side characters do as well. Chloe’s family in particular plays a substantial supporting — and supportive — role: Gigi, her glamorous, flamboyant grandmother (who my brain immediately envisioned as British Eartha Kitt, much to my delight) dutifully doles out wisdom and guidance with wit and candor to spare; and her two enigmatic and energetic younger sisters, Dani and Eve, routinely drop by her flat to check in on her well-being — and to also discuss the latest, greatest gossip, usually concerning Red. (The sisters were hilarious and fun to read, and I’m glad to see that Hibbert is going to tell their story in future installments.)

Talia Hibbert’s author biography states that she writes “sexy and diverse” stories. And she certainly delivers on both fronts with Get a Life, Chloe Brown. I want to make special note of the diversity aspect, though: Because while I don’t know much about the romance genre, I’m willing to bet that characters like Chloe (a self-assured, Black, fat, nerdy, disabled woman who is regularly revered over her beauty), or even like Red (whose constantly cheerful and confident demeanor belies intense insecurity), are not so readily found within it, simply due to the fact that they are few and far between in most other types of stories as well. Which is, of course, a shame. Representation is important, and fiction is always in need of other voices, and other lives.

Representation […] means accepting, then celebrating, the fact that difference is normal. To do that, we have to carve out space for the voices of marginalized people, because underrepresentation can’t be fixed unless you actively do the work.

— Talia Hibbert, in an interview

So I’m glad Hibbert is out there, actively doing the work, and that she’s using her voice to share Chloe Brown’s life with us.

We would do well to listen. That’s part of the work too.

So I quite enjoyed the book. Started this one in the middle of February, for obvious reasons, but while I liked what I read, it didn’t manage to hold my attention, and I put it down about halfway through.⠀⠀

Fast forward a couple of years, to March. The world is even more terrifying than usual, and most of us are stuck at home until who knows when. I’ve been doing fine, relatively speaking. In a decent place, mentally speaking. Until last week when 𝖙𝖍𝖊 𝖌𝖑𝖔𝖔𝖒 finally got me and caused me to spend the following weekend in a depressive daze.⠀

I had been reading a couple of thematically relevant books — mostly non-fiction accounts about humanity overcoming all kinds of calamities and disasters. Books that assured we were going to get through all this. Books that I absolutely refused to read after the anxiety hit. It all felt too real, too unwieldy. I wanted instead to read something as far removed from our current situation as possible. ⠀

Enter Chloe. It did the trick. I managed to crawl out of that dark headspace and into the light and delightful world of this book. I tore through the remaining half in a single, sleepless night.

If I had any real criticism to offer, is that I thought it relied too much on the cliché, at times. And also that it was definitely, maybe, just a tiny bit too melodramatic. But then again I figured that sort of went with the territory. I don’t know! You get swept up. I did.

I you’re looking for something to pick up something that’s light but still compelling in these dark and strange times, though, you could certainly do worse than reading about Chloe Brown’s life.

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