By Anya Shukla
One of the cutest scenes in "Take A Hint, Dani Brown" comes when the two main characters do a press event at a radio station. No spoilers, but… they just know each other so well, and it is adorable.
Review: At the beginning of Talia Hibbert’s “Take A Hint, Dani Brown,” the romantic leads’ friendly relationship is fueled by five-minute conversations. Zafir, a security guard, monitors the building that Dani teaches in, and the two see each other as (for the most part) platonic acquaintances. But after a photo of Zaf firefighter-carrying Dani out of an elevator post-safety drill goes viral, and Zaf’s mental health organization starts receiving media attention, the two decide to fake-date to keep the publicity going. Naturally, their relationship begins to heat up.
Hibbert remains a master of creating complex, realistic romance characters, and her two protagonists do not disappoint. Add in a slightly sarcastic, hard-hitting writing style, and you have yourself a romance novel that makes you laugh, sigh, and casually hang out around universities' security desks to try and find your other half.
What I Loved: The intersectional diversity. I’ve read 2.5 of her books, and Talia Hibbert does a consistently great job of writing diverse characters. We see representation with regards to race, sexuality, chronic pain, mental health, and more. Dani, for example, is a plus-sized, queer, Black woman; Zafir is a Muslim ex-rugby player who struggles with anxiety. Say what you will about her protagonists—they are never one-dimensional.
Moreover, this book emphasizes the fact that these unique characters should never have to change themselves to fit in or find love: “I hope you didn’t feel like you had to do something that wasn’t… that wasn’t you,” says dreamboat Zaf after an emotionally-guarded Dani hits him with a grand romantic gesture. “I don’t want you to change, Danika. I just want you to be mine” (pg. 542). Can we just. Take a second.
Okay, after full-on sobbing for a minute, I’m back. That moment is freaking adorable… and contains a moral that bears repeating. Healthy relationships do require some compromise, but not at the risk of losing the core of your personality. I feel like this lesson is especially important for women, people of color, and others who are systemically oppressed by those in power. You deserve to be selfish.
Additionally, I love that Dani is a Ph.D. student studying—in the words of a lovestruck Zafir during a “How Well Do You Know…” live radio game show—“race and gender in the West after slavery” (pg. 302) and ALSO a wholehearted believer in crystals and magic. She’s super smart! And also believes in the supernatural! How multifaceted! Yes, we live in a world where hoity-toity types look down upon astrology, yet Hibbert emphasizes a future doctor (of the academic variety, but still) can have a wide variety of non-mainstream beliefs. You can be both a scientist and a psychic.
Hibbert also deconstructs the idea of masculinity. Zafir reads steamy romance novels and struggles with anxiety; he runs an organization that uses rugby to teach boys about mental health. We love; we love; we love. I am a wholehearted believer in the “if we see a behavior pattern in the media, we start to replicate or validate that conduct in our everyday lives.” By showcasing men who emote, Hibbert helps her real-life readers appreciate emotional vulnerability.
What I Didn’t Love: Honestly, not a lot. Of the “Brown Sisters” series, I like this book the best: its third-act conflict and relationship arc feels believable. The only small thing is that Hibbert wrote all of the novels in this series with the exact same tone, so all of the sisters speak and think in very similar ways. Her slightly deadpan, snarky writing style works for one book… but I personally can’t handle it for three.
That’s pretty much it though. This was a good book. Talia Hibbert is a good writer.
A Quote I Would Like On Goodreads: “It’s good that you realize you’re more valuable as a person than as an idea-machine” (pg. 422).
Up next: “House Made of Dawn" by N. Scott Momaday.