Desert Isle Keeper
A Girl Like Her
Don’t you just love the simple pleasure of opening a book you know very little about and finding treasure within its pages? Me, too. When I read the blurb for A Girl Like Her, I was wary. The heroine is alternately described as rude, awkward, and, according to everyone in town, bad news; also, isolated and eccentric… so, reader, I had my doubts about her appeal. But I forged ahead and I’m so glad I did. I read (more like binged) A Girl Like Her while on vacation and weeks later I’m still reflecting on how good it was. The principal characters are complex, flawed and fascinating, and the story – part romance, part mystery (our heroine has dark secrets that slowly come to light as the story progresses) – is smart and sexy. A Girl Like Her is different and unique and a refreshing change from typical contemporary romance. Ms. Hibbert writes with confidence and humor and I enjoyed this novel from the first page to the last.
In a prologue, we’re briefly introduced to Daniel Burne, resident golden boy of the small town of Ravenswood. He’s feeling smug and proud at a party to celebrate his recent engagement – because the second-most beautiful, and eminently suitable, woman in Ravenswood was on his arm – when one of his guest spots a visitor in the parking lot. The woman – small, dark, soft-bodied and hard-faced – climbs atop his mint-condition Porsche 911, stares at him and then swings a bat. She shatters the windshield and doesn’t stop.
Flash forward two years: Evan Miller has retired from the military to settle in the small town of Ravenswood. Big, blond and handsome, he spends his days working as a blacksmith for Burne & Co., and his nights wondering about the neighbor living on the other side of his bedroom wall. He’s content with life in Ravenswood, and although he misses his mother (who he nursed through cancer before she passed away), he keeps himself busy. When A Girl Like Her begins, he’s on his fifth day working at Burne & Co., trying and failing to avoid the attentions of the owner’s son Daniel who seems determined to befriend him. Evan tries to ignore Daniel’s disparaging remarks about his co-worker and friend Zach, but he can’t find a reason to avoid Daniel’s offer to drive him home.
After an awkward walk wherein Daniel complains about the shady people who live in Evan’s new neighborhood, he’s relieved when the other man points to his BMW. They’re nearly there when they collide with a woman in a hurry to get past them. When Evan bends down to see if she’s okay, Daniel tells him not to bother because “she’s slow.” The two clearly know each other and after a cryptic exchange, she turns on her heel and leaves. Evan is curious about the mysterious woman and pissed about Daniel’s behavior, so he takes off, telling Daniel he’ll walk.
In a comically funny and awkward scene, we meet our heroine Ruth Kabbah. She’s just gotten her period and discovered she’s out of tampons, so she’s forced to leave her apartment to buy another box. Going out isn’t really Ruth’s thing – she prefers to spend her days hidden away in her apartment avoiding other people. Ruth is autistic, curvy and black; she likes her routines (late mornings, long nights, pajamas – always, and comic books) and her solitude. Aware of her reputation in town and wary of gossip, just leaving her apartment for tampons is a major event. Nevertheless, she’s conquered the convenience store and is making her way home when she runs into a wall. Well, a really big, beautiful man. And Daniel. Whom she despises. Daniel’s handsome companion tries to apologize, but Ruth knows it’s only a matter of time before he learns the truth about her… so she flees.
Fortunately, we know something Evan and Ruth don’t – they’re neighbors! Evan, still curious about the neighbor he never sees, decides to make him dinner and introduce himself. (Yes, ladies. He’s hot and he cooks. And he’s awesome. He’s also convinced his neighbor is a guy.). But when Ruth opens the door he can’t believe it’s the same beautiful black woman who nearly ran him over – and whom Daniel treated so rudely. He’s even more surprised once Ruth speaks. She’s rude and unwelcoming – and he’s oddly charmed by her awkward and defiant personality. Ruth can’t believe how big her neighbor is. Or how handsome. Or persistent. He somehow inveigles his way into her apartment and convinces her to take his shepherd’s pie. Ruth is curious, Evan is caught and A Girl Like Her hits its stride.
Friends, there are opposites and then there’s Ruth and Evan. She’s prickly and guarded; he’s sweet and kind, and determined to get to know Ruth. She has secrets and a reputation as the town jezebel, he’s a gentle giant who’s just trying to pick up the pieces of his life since his mother’s death. She’s suspicious and wary of his interest in her, he covets Ruth’s smiles and conversation – and cherishes his time with her. He persists in getting to know her – even when she’s outright rude to him, and he falls hard for all the disparate parts that ARE Ruth – her mind, her body, her personality – and he wants more. Evan embraces all the qualities Ruth assumes will scare him away, and somehow (after a few mistakes) intuits what she needs from him and their relationship – honoring her choices even when he doesn’t agree with them.
Ruth isn’t your typical romantic heroine. She has quirks but isn’t quirky; she’s curvy and soft, tough and prickly, traumatized by events in her past, and struggling over her relationship with her sister (whom she loves but who often frustrates her) and the small community in Ravenswood – many of whom she once called friends. She’s also autistic. Fortunately, none of those labels define Ruth (or this story); her character is richly developed and realized by Ms. Hibbert and her PoV is a highlight of the story. Unfortunately, two years after the events described in the prologue, she’s hidden herself away and retreated from the outside world.
Although the relationship between Ruth and Evan is the central focus of A Girl Like Her, there’s quite a bit more to the story. Ruth’s past is a mystery that’s slowly revealed via conversations with Evan, her interactions with fiercely protective sister Hannah and via Ruth’s PoV. Evan is similarly fleshed out through his interactions with Ruth, his friendship with co-worker Zach (who features in the next Ravenswood novel) and his PoV. It’s a marvelous balancing act and Ms. Hibbert doesn’t miss a trick. There are secrets, small town gossip, an awful ex, and the truth – and the author perfectly paces them all. The story never feels rushed or underdeveloped, and she does a terrific job developing her principal and secondary characters as they ebb and flow in and out of Ruth’s life. Nothing is simple or easy or convenient – except Evan’s love for Ruth and hers for him (and ultimately, herself). Ms. Hibbert does a masterful job incorporating all the intricate (heavy) parts that make up this unconventional love story.
In less capable hands, all the layers and issues that make A Girl Like Her so compelling and special – body positivity, abuse, consent, biracial relationships, familial love and obligation, autism – might overwhelm the narrative. But in Ms. Hibbert’s hands, they don’t. She honors her characters and their story in this poignant, funny and affecting romance, and delivers one of the year’s best contemporary love stories.
Buy it at: Amazon