It’s Been a Cruel Summer

  • What: The Proposal
  • Who: Jasmine Guillory
  • Pages: 325, soft cover
  • Genres: Contemporary fiction and chick lit
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flame

Sometimes you need a pick-me-up. In July and August, I read some great books (see here, here, and here), but there was a lot of death and sadness. It was prime-time summer reading mode, so why was I depressing myself before Labor Day? I desperately needed and wanted something fun, fast, and maybe even a little sexy (not too different from what our main characters in this review desire).

Insert The Proposal: the perfect remedy for summertime blues.

Yes, it’s classic chick lit: Boy meets girl; they have a fun fling; and you fly through their whirlwind romance with many laughs.

But Jasmine Guillory also gives us realistic sex scenes, some very tasty meals (I was craving tacos for days), cultural awareness and diversity, and zero eye-rolling over clichés. This is more than your typical summer beach read. To put it simply, it’s a really good book, of which I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Sometimes that’s all you need in a recommendation, especially in the steamy months of summer.

(And don’t read too much into this title; I have so many ideas now that T.Swift has new music.)

The Proposal

Nikole Paterson doesn’t get emotionally attached, and she refuses to be vulnerable. That’s why she dates men like Fisher, the typical male actor in LA with good looks and who is lacking upstairs. But she’s just having fun, so what’s the harm? The answer to that becomes apparent when he proposes to her at a Dodgers game after only five months of dating. Clearly, they’re on different pages, especially when he can’t even spell her name right.

How can you face thousands of fans after turning down a good-looking man? You get help from people like Carlos Ibarra and his sister, Angela, who swoop in to save her from camera crews and further humiliation. Carlos also swoops in when Sportscenter and social media cause the proposal clip to go viral in the coming days and things turn nasty and threatening for Nik.

With all of the negativity, Nik needs something fun to forget her troubles, and Carlos is sweet, good-looking, smart, and a successful doctor. The two embark on the perfect rebound filled with good sex, good food, and good laughs. They have more than just mutual physical attraction though, and they start spending a lot of time together that’s filled with intimate conversation and vulnerable moments. But a rebound’s a rebound, so when feelings blossom, they must put a kibosh on it before things go too far.

“I get trying to make a big romantic gesture and all, and wanting a surprise, but … deciding to spend your life together shouldn’t be a surprise … It should be something the two of you talk about first!” — Some truth from The Proposal

The first thing you must know about this excellent read is that it’s incredibly woke. Now I know chick lit isn’t the most culturally aware genre in the world. Even though I love it, I admit it’s usually full of #whitegirlproblems. With The Proposal, I was pleasantly surprised to read about a black woman and Latino man as the main characters with a black lesbian model and an overweight Korean in the supporting cast. Guillory doesn’t just provide surface-level diversity, though; she even brings related issues into scenes. The most notable example comes at the very beginning when Nik refuses a good-looking white boy at a baseball game and the unjustified social repercussions of that. It sets the stage for wokeness to unfold in the coming chapters.

The characters themselves also have depth, and they explore it in the many intimate conversations that accompany their sexy moments. Carlos has emotional pain in his past that he’s never dealt with, and Nik has a deep fear of getting close to someone because she’s been burned before and in the worst kind of way. They push each other to overcome their individual fears, proving that the best partner is the one who challenges you to be better.

“As entertaining as Nik and Carlos are together, Guillory has also given them real lives outside the contours of their relationship,” writes Kamrun Nessa in her NPR review. “There is so much happening on the periphery in The Proposal, and it’s all necessary — Guillory builds depth into Nik and Carlos and breadth into their relationship, because they need to know their own strengths (and we readers need to see it) before they can truly rely on each other.”

With depth comes a dose of reality, and Guillory gives us that with the sex scenes she depicts. Too often, pop culture presents a false idea of what sex can be: It all happens too fast, the characters always “explode” at the same time (honestly, that sounds dangerous), and it’s never practiced safely. Everything about it is wrapped up in a perfect bow.

Barf. None of that is true, and none of that is interesting.

For the most part, Guillory realistically details Carlos and Nik’s hookups, even highlighting the importance of running to the bedroom for a condom.

“Women who know how to fight hold themselves differently. I’ve seen that in the women who’ve taught me, in the women who’ve taken my classes, and especially in myself. You walk into any situation with an attitude that you’ve got this, you can defend yourself, you are strong.” — The Proposal

Now that we’ve covered the serious aspects of this review, let’s get to the real reason we have a five-flame novel on our hands: This book was fun.

Yes, it was a quick read that leveraged more entertainment than complexity even though the latter was certainly present. It didn’t focus on flowery or poetic writing; it just got down to business — no pun intended. But also I could not put it down because I was enjoying it so much. I loved the main characters and how they interacted. Nik is a strong, independent woman who can go tit for tat with Carlos. They draw off one another’s humor and quick-witted responses, and I appreciated their conversations and the inner thoughts that accompanied these interactions. The Proposal both charmed and captivated me.

In J school, we always learned you have to give readers what they want and what they need (blending interest with information). Guillory does exactly that in her second novel. I needed something woke and not cliché. I also needed something fun after a string of sad reads, and that’s exactly what I wanted too. She gave me all of the above in this entertaining novel with great characters, an amusing plot, lively dialogue, and some very descriptive food scenes … something I definitely want and need in my life.

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