October 27, 2020

If the Boot Fits

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One of romance’s brightest stars, Rebekah Weatherspoon is known for her sweet and steamy stories. With If the Boot Fits, the second in the Cowboys of California series, she  burnishes that reputation further, delivering a thoroughly modern Cinderella story about an aspiring screenwriter hesitantly falling for a sexy, celebrity, cinnamon-roll-sweet hero with swagger.

Weatherspoon deftly translates the classic rags to riches fairy tale's core elements into a 21st-century context. As an overworked and underappreciated assistant, Amanda McQueen is the perfect contemporary equivalent of a put-upon poor relation—an invisible underling with proximity to the glitter and glam of Hollywood, but no meaningful access. Cinderella’s stepsisters and wicked stepmother have merged into a single figure, the pampered and punitive starlet Dru Anastasia, who uses Amanda as an emotional sounding board but provides little pay and no respect in return. Sam Pleasant, a former cowboy and scion of a venerable Black Hollywood family, makes an excellent 21st-century prince, and the Vanity Fair Oscar party easily stands in for a royal ball.

While it’s great fun to see this fantasy transformed, the relationship between Amanda and Sam is the beating heart of the story, and the way their connection develops is brand new. After all, Cinderella and Prince Charming didn’t hook up after the ball. Also new is Amanda’s irreverence and incredulity the morning after, when she wakes up in a hotel room and can’t help but think, “The night before must have been a dream.” Her mind boggles as she contemplates the series of events that led from the Vanity Fair Oscar party to an A-list after-party, and, eventually, to Sam’s bed. Her conclusion: “There was no way. . . . There was absolutely no freaking way she’d run into Samuel Pleasant at both events, and surely you’d be joking if you told her that sometime in the night she and Sam had completely hit it off.”

This is Amanda’s voice throughout— lively, skeptical and incredibly relatable. Thinking this can’t happen or it’s just one night is incredibly freeing, and Amanda could use some freedom from her grind. One moment, she and Sam are having fun, with no names exchanged and no expectations. The next, he’s asking for her name in the middle of her “enthusiastic rendition of the cha-cha slide.” But she’s still skeptical, so she plays it cool and keeps it moving. “Sorry, I can’t hear you. I’m dancing,” is Amanda’s reply, and she assumes that’s that.

It’s a joy to read those initial scenes and watch Sam and Amanda's warring instincts battle it out. Weatherspoon creates vivid, specific characters and gives them wonderful interior lives and excellent banter. Their romance begins with that one-night stand, and the initial spark grows through a shared sense of fun, common values and tastes. Sam recognizes something in Amanda, and he invites her into his home and his inner circle without hesitation.

It should be obvious that they belong together, and yet, despite the chemistry and all their commonalities, according to the conventions of Hollywood, romantic fiction and fairy tales, Sam and Amanda qualify as an “unlikely couple,” defying major societal norms. Sam comes from a wealthy family and has just won an Academy Award, whereas Amanda is “a D-list actress’s lowly assistant” who is struggling to find her footing in the entertainment industry and to just make her rent each month. And even though they’re both African American, Amanda is a beautiful, dark-skinned, plus-size Black woman. In a culture that still holds fast to narrow definitions of what constitutes beauty, this reduces her status and eligibility. To be clear, Amanda has confidence in her talent and her looks. She’s also very aware, however, and sometimes overtly reminded, that successful Black women in Hollywood don’t often look like her. The contrast to her boss, Dru, a thin, light-skinned biracial woman, is especially prominent.

It’s not often that distinctions like this are directly challenged on the page in traditionally published romance, and Weatherspoon handles it all with grace, allowing discomfiting truths and subtle social critique to emerge organically from the events of the story. Conflicts around class, color and size are just part of this romance, however. It’s really about character and family. Though If the Boot Fits places Amanda in a professional context in which she cannot fully escape toxic standards, much of the central relationship develops on Sam’s ranch, a hundred miles away from the image-obsessed center of the storm. As a result, their love story never feels didactic and the romance never gets weighed down. There’s warmth and lightness throughout this very contemporary, yet ultimately classically romantic retelling—Amanda thrives on the support from her own friends and family, and Sam’s family may be Black Hollywood royalty, but they're also grounded, kind human beings, who embrace her and remind her of home. Readers who want romance to explore some of the real issues that women like Amanda face and see her beautifully celebrated and cherished will absolutely adore this book.

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