I grew up reading thriller and horror books, having gotten a taste for Stephen King and Dean Koontz young. And while I’d love to pretend my tastes are more literary than they actually are, they’ve certainly broadened over the years. I’ll read just about anything—especially if the cover art is good—including the opposite side of the spectrum: Chick lit.
Let me be clear: I hate the term “chick lit.” It’s demeaning of a particular genre, suggesting that this particular brand of books targeted for women has no real place in literature. Similarly, romance denotes a type of read that is only good for the beach or a wine-fuelled book club (though I will happily enjoy both). Regardless of how they’re branded, these books offer a lighthearted, heartwarming form of escapism that is often the perfect antidote to the garbage fire our world has become.
But few romance authors have dazzled and captivated me as much as Jasmine Guillory.
I was first introduced to Guillory’s works with her second book, The Proposal, a quasi-sequel to her debut novel, The Wedding Date. I had saved this particular book in my IG saves (which is basically just a smorgasbord of book titles and mani inspo), no doubt because of the fun cover art, and had put it on hold at the library. I cracked it open (carefully, of course—I’m a friend to books) at eight months pregnant, desperate to read a book that would keep my attention for more than 10 minutes (an unfortunate symptom that had surfaced in the later months of my pregnancy, despite being an avid and fast reader for the majority of my life), only to devour it in one sunny Sunday.
After promptly reading The Wedding Date (and then subsequently purchasing both, as well as pre-ordering Guillory’s two new novels, The Wedding Party, out now, and Royal Holiday, out October 1), I realized that that there is so much more to these stories than just a boy-meets-girl situation we’ve come to expect from this genre.
While Guillory’s works fall within the romance genre, they balance escapism with real-life scenarios, told through the lens of young, accomplished black women.
Guillory has an affinity to craft heartwarming but realistic narratives around black women that is so important in today’s landscape. In an essay for O she writes, “Most often, in the literary world, the most well-known stories featuring Black girls and women are tales of hardship and sorrow. Slavery, abuse, rape, struggle, servitude, pain—those are the narratives that most frequently get told about us. And sure, sometimes those women and girls triumph over their pain and struggle. But before they do, we the readers get to see how difficult life is for them—how terribly the world treats them, and therefore how bad it is to be a Black woman. Of course, many of these stories are necessary, and important—but it only tells one dimension of our lives.” She adds that “The news stories about Black woman are similarly bleak,” but that these narratives, while important to point out the injustice and imbalance of how black women are represented are immensely important, should not be the “default.”
Guillory was inspired to write stories about accomplished black women living in the big city who fall in love. She, like so many others, felt there was a gap in representation and wanted to read stories that she connected with, written by people she connected with.
The protagonists’ perspectives are what make the stories so easy to devour, but Guillory also approaches sex in a realistic way.
When we look at romance or chick lit as a genre, sex is often approached in one of two ways: In the awkward morning-after encounter (the same one we experience in romcoms) where the sex itself is skirted around and often dealt with in a guilty or regretful manner. The second is more of the Fifty Shades approach, which is fine if that’s your thing, but somewhere in between the two lies a more realistic realm of pleasure that is often disregarded—especially when it comes to women’s pleasure. It doesn’t have to be pornographic, but it’s also refreshing to know that foreplay, sex and female pleasure can coexist without the shame or awkwardness (though there’s always a bit of the latter).
While there’s so much room for other perspectives to enter the literary world (for instance, Helen Huong’s The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, both portraying protagonists with autism), Guillory’s works broaden the offering with some modern romance stories we need. And if this is what’s passing for “chick lit” in 2019, then we’re in a really good place.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ashley Kowalewski)