Secret Moments in a Crowded Room

Yes, all three Jasmine Guillory books have T.Swift lyrics in their review title. I can’t help it these two women absolutely kill it in their respective careers.

And when I say Guillory is killing it, I mean it; she may just be sliding her way into my favorite author slot. I can say that confidently after reading three of her five novels. I knew I’d found a stellar author after reading The Proposal in 2019, and recently reading her debut, The Wedding Date, confirmed it for me. I loved it so much that I instantly threw away by #tbr list to divulge into Guillory’s next chronological novel, The Wedding Party.

I read two Guillory books in less than two weeks, and it may have been the two best literary weeks of 2020. The Wedding Party didn’t quite top her previous two books I’d read, but I still enjoyed every moment of it. And Guillory once again gave me everything I loved in her previous work: realistic characters with depth, diversity, entertainment, wit, and a whole lot of love — both literally and euphemistically.

We were first introduced to Maddie and Theo in The Wedding Date. (Yes, the titles are similar, and they have a lot of the same characters; try to keep up.) They’re both the best friends of Alexa Monroe — Maddie from Alexa’s childhood and Theo from work. What’s the first problem with this scenario? They hate each other. And the second? They’re both in Alexa’s upcoming wedding.

After their terrible first meeting a few years ago, Maddie and Theo now simply tolerate each other and only for Alexa’s sake. They really just try to avoid each other at all costs. Some alcohol, dancing, and laughing on Theo’s birthday, though, result in a kiss that they promise will never happen again — until it does — again and again. Once they realize they have amazing sex and can more than tolerate each other when alone together, Maddie and Theo agree to a friends-with-benefits relationship — with a major de-emphasis on friends.

Of course, they must set some ground rules: Nobody finds out, especially Alexa, and they will end the sex after her wedding. That would be all fine and dandy if their simmering attraction didn’t turn into genuine feelings that teeter on the edge of love.

In my previous reviews of Guillory’s books, I praised the genuineness of her books. Jasmine Guillory writes about real people with real jobs and problems who have real sex — with no lack of condoms, consent, or cunnilingus.

As a 28-year-old, when I watch or read the same sex scenes I absorbed as a teenager, I scoff at how quickly the sex happens and how unsafe it is. Guillory never falls into the dramatic and unrealistic traps that other art forms emphasize. Mix that with the complexity and depth of the characters, and you feel like you’re reading about actual people — something refreshing in chick lit and literature as a whole.

Furthermore, Guillory once again brings in race, with the two main characters being Black. Their race becomes a focal point of many of their conversations, and they can bond over their shared experiences of racism.

“There are so many unwritten rules, and if you don’t follow them, you’re ‘not a culture fit.’ And of course, it’s even harder if you’re a woman of color, or you’re plus size, or you speak accented English.”

The WEdding party

I know I keep bringing up the diversity factor in Guillory’s books, but it’s so important that every group is accurately represented in literature. Too often the white perspective is told, especially in chick lit, which is tainted by the white gaze. So for all my chick-lit lovers, please read and support diverse authors in a genre that desperately needs their work elevated.

The Wedding Party also makes the platonic relationship between a man and a woman a greater theme than when Alexa and Theo were first introduced in Guillory’s debut, which I love. In my review of The Existence of Amy (which also had a Taylor-inspired title; whoops), I wrote how seldom you witness this type of relationship in books, TV, and movies. Theo and Alexa prove, though, that a man and a woman can be friends — best ones at that. He’s constantly there and looking out for her; he genuinely wants her to be happy; and not once has there been sexual tension between them. Theo and Alexa are definite #friendshipgoals, and I hope the future of literature has more of these platonic relationships and less of friends turning into lovers.

So if The Wedding Party shares the same great qualities as The Wedding Date and The Proposal (diversity, real people, interesting character arcs, and more), why doesn’t it receive the same five-flame treatment? Here’s a quote from Kirkus to provide some context:

“Ultimately, the characters display a perplexing lack of initiative as romantic partners: Everything happens to them, they rarely stop to examine their feelings, and they are too afraid to share the truth in their hearts. The sheer lack of action brings the romance to a grinding halt as Maddie and Theo wait for someone else to arrive and propel them into the next stage of their relationship.

Likable characters trapped in a plodding, directionless romance.”

Kirkus Review

I think Kirkus is a bit harsh here, but overall I find the validity in this critique.

Yes, the book stalls a bit from the middle to the end, and Maddie and Theo frustratingly don’t make any moves in the direction I want them to. The Wedding Party probably could have been edited a bit to remove some of its repetitiveness, but I also feel that same quality defines the complexities of Maddie and Theo’s relationship.

I certainly don’t feel, however, that Maddie and Theo are trapped like Kirkus does; they just can’t get off the hamster wheel as soon as I’d like. But that sort of tension between characters and between characters and reader can make for great literature. Let’s not forget that four flames still means a kick-ass book. Guillory just happened to write two of the best chick-lit books of all time before The Wedding Party. That can’t easily be topped.

One thought on “Secret Moments in a Crowded Room

  1. Pingback: Ranked: Reads in 2020 | Big Little Literature

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