Nice Girls Finish First
In some ways the Chick Lit genre allows for more leeway in what is, often, a romantic story. For instance, romance readers who crave heroines more aggressive or more sexually experienced than Romance’s ubiquitous small town misses can often find them in Chick Lit. Nice Girls Finish First has this type of heroine, the kind full of prickles, conflicting behaviors, and emotions. It also has some rather forced humor and a couple of not too believable character transformations, all of which, taken together made for a flawed book.
Kirby Green is a real ball-buster type. The Vice President of Marketing at Whips & Lace Manufacturing (she markets sex toys), she knows what it takes to succeed in business, and it’s not befriending all of your employees and bawling into your beer with them. Shortly after becoming VP, Kirby fired her secretary and all of her marketing staff for their ineptness and attitude problems. Her boss, Banning Stuart, takes exception to her high handedness, and Kirby refuses to back down. Their argument escalates into an ultimatum from Banning – Kirby must get someone, anyone to call her nice within four weeks, or she can kiss her vacation to Italy good-bye and, for that matter, her job as well. If she can succeed in what he implies is an impossible task, he will publicly apologize to her. Kirby acknowledges to herself that she’s a little “brusque,” but how hard can it be to get one person to call her “nice”? Really, how hard can it be?
Brianna Higgins, Kirby’s new assistant, thinks that Kirby might need a little help. Brianna is too nice herself to doubt that it can be done, but, really two heads are better than one at any task – right? So she takes Kirby on as a project and then realizes maybe this master-protégé relationship might go both ways. Bree’s biggest dream is to sing professional opera, and she has the pipes, but not the requisite diva demeanor. Or the emotional support from her family or friends, including her fiancé, Lyle, who would rather Bree concentrate on their wedding or his dream of starting a family. Kirby is a self-made woman who takes no crap from anyone and has no (well, few) preconceived notions about Brianna. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
The assumption the reader makes once the conflict become apparent here is that in the course of the novel Kirby will become nicer and Brianna will transform into She-Ra, Princess of Power. But this isn’t really what happens. She does make some baby steps towards determining what she wants out of life, and when shoved by circumstance to vocalize what this is, she eventually does, albeit tentatively and tactfully. Brianna gets a bit more forceful, but by the book’s end she’s still not channeling her inner Streisand. If, as she and others state repeatedly, opera requires a diva personality, one doubts this is the right dream for her to pursue.
Holliday takes a different tack with Kirby, more along the lines of realization rather than transformation, and the end result is not fully believable. At the beginning of the book Kirby, has exactly one friend in life and is feared and disliked by most everyone at Whips & Lace. She works all the time, never socializes, and thinks chatting at work is both 1) pure laziness and 2) a trap for women who want to get ahead. Her one foray into developing a relationship is signing up to be a Special Sibling to a little girl named Lauren. Fast forward four weeks, and it’s night into day. Lauren has taught Kirby the Meaning of Life and Brianna has taught her to trust women again. And there’s new love on the horizon as well. Not that people can’t change, but the epilogue in particular is a little yack-worthy, and I’m no newcomer to super-sweet epilogues.
This is not a romance, but both Kirby and Brianna have love interests. Unfortunately, they are the same guy in all but name. Neither is all that well developed, although Lyle is the more defined of the two. But it’s obvious from the first mention of his name that he’s not the guy for Brianna, and Holliday goes a little overboard in making him unpalatable in HEA terms. Worse, no one in this book has any chemistry whatsoever.
A number of side conflicts also crop up throughout including a stalker ex-boyfriend and some complex mother-daughter psychology. The resolutions of these problems oddly enough occur mostly off-screen. In fact, most of the scenes with the greatest punch-packing potential happen off-screen and are then later summed up briefly or not at all. The way the author deals with the escalating violence of Kirby’s ex is both ridiculous and simplistic, though I’m certain the author meant it to seem all Grrl-Power-y instead of just absurd and unbelievable.
It’s clear that Holliday intended Nice Girls Finish First to be another fictional exploration of the power a flawed and hurting human has to remake themselves into something stronger and better. Unfortunately, she picked characters that didn’t choose to illustrate this point very well and added secondary conflicts that seemed to obscure and sidetrack rather than illuminate. I’d pass on this one.