I knew I wanted to review this book pretty much the moment I became a Smart Bitches reviewer. Which means I’ve been looking forward to it for a little more than a hot second, my excitement building as I waited until closer to the release date to read it, letting it gather metaphorical dust on my Kindle app because I didn’t want to read it too early. That’s a lot of expectations for a book to try and meet.
But it did. Get a Life, Chloe Brown saw my expectations’ proffered hand and kissed it gently, and then proceeded to charm their pants off. In a tent. With s’mores. (Not with s’mores, because s’mores apparently are not a thing in the UK.) This metaphor got away from me, but you get the idea. This book is outstanding.
To begin: Chloe Brown almost died. But then she didn’t.
After her near-death encounter with a drunk driver, Chloe Brown decided to get a life. You see, a close examination of the one she had lived so far was not particularly impressive, so Chloe made a list.
- Move out.
- Enjoy a drunken night out.
- Ride a motorbike.
- Go camping.
- Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
- Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
- Do something bad.
Chloe completes the first item…and the seventh. Across the courtyard from her apartment is that of the building superintendent, Redford Morgan. Handsome and handy and heavily tattooed, Red only catches Chloe at her worst moments. Like when she’s watching him paint at night. Other than those stolen moments of watching Red work (he paints half naked, you guys), Chloe avoids Red, and Red avoids seemingly snobby Chloe, with her sharp, upper class accent and her apparent disdain towards Red, which he assumes can only be because of their class differences.
Until he comes upon her, stuck in a tree, rescuing a cat, and their attempts at avoidance fall apart. In exchange for helping her complete items on her Get a Life list, Chloe, a web designer, agrees to create a website for Red’s art as part of his determination to relaunch his art career. Their increased time together finds Red realizing that Chloe isn’t stuck up and mean; she’s just, and I quote, “a cute little hermit who hisses at sunlight”. Red also finds himself, quite unhappily to start, attracted to Chloe, whose upper-class background and occasional stand-offishness reminds Red of his abusive ex-girlfriend, Pippa. Red’s emotional task through the novel is to recognize that Pippa and Chloe are not the same person (they’re not even similar), but the way that Pippa treated him affected Red’s willingness and ability to trust that other people are not going to hurt him.
Chloe, too, is wary of others. It took years for her medical concerns to be taken seriously and in that time the landscape of her life changed extensively. (Chloe is Black, and while I can’t speak extensively to racism in the UK, I would be interested to know if the racial medical bias experienced by Black women in the United States is also found there. I imagine so, because racism, but defer to others for confirmation. As I understand it, fibromyalgia can be difficult and frustrating to diagnose in any case and racial bias, if at play here, certainly would not help.)
For Chloe, fibromyalgia has meant more than living with chronic pain, exhaustion, countless medications, and years of medical dismissal. It has also meant living largely without other people. Besides her chaotic and marvelous family, Chloe has been utterly left behind by friends and loved ones who either thought she was lying about being ill or disappeared from her life as the coping mechanisms she employed to survive the years of untreated illness changed her lifestyle.
She’d learned the hard way that people were always looking for a reason to leave, that affection or adoration or promises of devotion turned to dust when things got tough. Losing Henry had shown her that. Waking up one day to realize that her friends, bored with lists and rain checks and careful coping mechanisms, had left her behind… that had been unnecessary emphasis on a painful lesson. Chloe’s family was abnormal in their loyalty, and she loved them for it, but they didn’t seem to understand that others couldn’t be trusted. Better to be alone than to be abandoned.
For Chloe, her list isn’t just about getting things done: it’s about jump starting herself again, helping her learn to be brave. Getting, or building, a life once again.
This book is heavy, with two people who have plenty of reasons not to trust others learning to let another in. But it’s also cute and funny as fuck. Looking for a book to hand to a newish romance reader? Pick this one. As hilarious as it is heartbreaking, Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a fantastic way to show new readers all that contemporaries can be.
I personally have been having a hard time getting through contemporaries recently, due to a lot of “I’m-not-like-other-girls” main characters and forced quirkiness. Get a Life, Chloe Brown is charming without feeling heavy handed, and Chloe has idiosyncrises that feel natural, as opposed to attempts to make her more unique than everyone else in the whole world. People in the real world are strange and goofy, have weird habits and off beat interests, but I find that the ability to naturally represent those traits is a tricky one. Get a Life, Chloe Brown does it fantastically.
I appreciate that ability especially here because some of Chloe’s things are my things too, like laying on the floor when emotionally compromised (ask me about that time I cried under a table at my college library), the overall inability to deliver jokes that are recognizable as jokes, and sharing a lot of general characteristics with grumpy old men. Chloe prefers buttons on all of her clothes, despite her inability to always work them, because they “add a certain dignity to an outfit”. She has a hard time thanking people for helping her. She would rather be alone than run the risk of being abandoned.
Red (a literal redhead by the way) is big and tough, has “MUM” tattooed on his knuckles, and blushes when people say nice things to him. He sees a therapist when said mum tells him to. He spends a fair amount of time thinking about how attracted he is to Chloe’s ankles and has thoughts like: “He had the strangest idea that his virtue wasn’t safe around her, which was the single weirdest thought he’d ever had.” Then, later in the book, he offers to give her an orgasm, because, ya know, endorphins are natural pain killers. If it is not immensely obvious to you already, Red is one of my favorite contemporary heroes.
Watching Red and Chloe unfold for one another is achingly good, as is watching them stand up for one another, often to the other person. From Red to Chloe:
“I can cook, and right now, you can’t. So I’m doing it for you because that’s how people should behave; they should fill in each other’s gaps.”
And from Chloe to Red:
“You always say such lovely things to me, Red. Do you say them to yourself?”
No. No, he didn’t. It had never occurred to him that he should, not until recently.
“I’ll say them,” she murmured. “I’ll tell you how incredibly clever you are, and how you’re funny, and kind, and sweet, and a damned good artist. I don’t understand how things work in creative circles, and I don’t know how much Pippa actually did.” She screwed up her face and spat out the name like it tasted nasty, which he enjoyed way more than he should have. “But no matter what she did or did not do for your career, no one can change the fact that you’re talented. You’re skilled. You’re good.”
What a gentle, gorgeous care it is to cook for someone when they cannot, to remind them of all that they are when they have been trained to forget it. Much like real life, few things in this novel are easily solved. The end of the novel is full of the growing pains of two people learning how to be with each other and to be with themselves. These are some of the things I love most in romance. I love people knowing that they fit with one another, but still being in the process of fully embodying that. I love: I love you, and I am still working on me. Get a Life, Chloe Brown shines in this: the representation of love, both of the self and of the other, as something that has to be invested in, over and over, again and again.
Towards the end of the novel Red tells Chloe: “I’m working on it, and I hope…Well, I hope that’s enough.”
And while Get a Life, Chloe Brown has a further HEA than that, that is enough for Chloe, and it’s certainly enough for me.