by Sophie Marie Niang, Deputy Features Editor
Some things automatically make us feel good. They bring an irrepressible smile to our face. Be it the feeling of the sun on your skin, a hot bath or your favourite disco song, they are surefire ways to feel instantly better. Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown belongs in this category. The notes I wrote on my phone as I was reading it start with “*very* funny.” It is that, and much more.
The premise for this novel is ridiculous: Danika Brown, career-minded PhD student who also happens to be allergic to romance, asks the universe to send her the perfect, no-strings-attached friend-with-benefit. Through a series of unfortunate events, she end up being “rescued” by her work friend, security guard and avid reader of romance novels Zafir Ansari, during a fire drill. She sees it as a sign that he is the one, the Internet sees it as a viral moment, and they become a hashtag. Zafir’s charity, which he was having a hard time getting off the ground, receives an avalanche of attention and donations, and so he asks Dani to pretend to be his girlfriend as long as the hype around them will last, strictly for business reasons of course. They shake on it, and their story begins.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown works like any classic romance novel, or rom-com for that matter. This tried-and-tested structure undoubtedly plays a role in the book’s feel-good factor, but this is not why I loved it so much. I loved it because its two main characters are a bisexual, dark skin Black woman, who is also a witch and a workaholic; and a Muslim man, ex-rugby player, who loves romance novels and struggles with anxiety. I loved it because these characters, and everyone around them, were well rounded, and that every aspect of their identity was addressed and developed. There was a reason for everything, and I enjoyed it. This novel was not about race or religion, yet it addressed these topics in an accurate and relatable way. I also loved it because of Talia Hibbert’s writing: colourful, irreverent, and once again, extremely funny.
In terms of narrative structure, the novel jumps back and forth between Zafir and Danika’s viewpoints, which enables it to describe feelings in a beautiful way. Hibbert writes about desire and the moment of realising one is in love beautifully. She also captures the way we can be terribly delusional, and blind to our own emotions. And at the same time, the novel deals with topics such as anxiety or grief, and does so extremely well. As readers, we spend a long time with each character’s internal monologue, and therefore we are able to really understand what they are going through. We feel for them, we are rooting for them, and at the same time, all the way, we are highly entertained.
Another excellent feature of this novel are the sex scenes. Now, I am not necessarily the biggest fan of erotica, especially when mixed in with a wider plot — I think it is often clumsy, corny, and too cringe to be sexy (check out the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction award for examples and frankly, also for a good time). However, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, challenged all my preconceptions. Here, sex is explicit without being vulgar, relaxed without being a joke, and surprisingly non-phallocentric. It is also body positive: saggy boobs and stretch marks are not only mentioned, but also portrayed as sexy and desirable features. This is unusual to say the least, and a welcome breath of fresh air in the world of erotic fiction.
With this light and hilarious novel, Talia Hibbert actually takes on quite a lot: questions of race and representation, mental health, in addition to the usual challenges of writing about love and relationships, including sex. I, for one, think she does an incredible job. Of course the novel is predictable at points, and has its corny moments, but that is the reason we read romance novels in the first place! On that point, Take a Hint, Dani Brown is nicely self-aware, which comes across in the conversations Dani and Zaf have about romance novels. We’re here for the happy ending, and we enjoy every step of the way.
When I closed this novel this morning, I had a big smile on my face. It made me feel happy, confident, and in love with love. That smile widened even more when I realised that the book was part of a trilogy, and that Talia Hibbert had already written about the older Brown sister (who is a secondary character in the book) and her love adventure. So you run get this one, and I’ll make sure to get my hands on Get a Life, Chloe Brown!
Take a Hint, Dani Brown (Pitakus, Little Brown Book Group) is now available for purchase. Thank you to Pitakus for the free review copy.