Talia Hibbert has quickly become the go-to writer for those who like their romances to be heartwarming, thought-provoking and fun in equal measure. Building on the success of the first two novels in her Brown Sisters trilogy, Hibbert’s formula is burnished to perfection in Act Your Age, Eve Brown, a delightful comedic confection.
Hibbert unites many beloved romance tropes in one tremendously fun package, flawlessly and creatively executing all of them. Eve and Jacob are the embodiment of the grumpy/sunshine trope—she’s a delightful, chaotic ray of light, while innkeeper Jacob is an order-obsessed grouch. They are opposites very reluctantly attracted, and their meet-cute (which is more of a meet-disaster) leads them into forced proximity and helps their attraction grow.
When the going gets tough, pampered 20-something Londoner Eve Brown gets going—right out of town. Eve is a gorgeous hot mess. She’s tried and failed and tried again on a number of different career and life paths. Through it all, she’s enjoyed the backing of her wealthy and accomplished family. This time, however, when her nascent wedding planning business goes bust, Eve loses the financial backing and patience of her frustrated parents. She flees to the countryside where she runs into Jacob Wayne, the proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast, and applies for a temporary chef position. Eve is eminently qualified, but has great difficulty proving it because (of course) she fails to produce anything like a resumé. Turned off by her apparent lack of professionalism, Jacob rejects her application. But when she accidentally hits him with her car and breaks his arm, a horrified Eve insists on working at the B&B to help while he recovers. Though there’s a fair amount of hostility and distrust between them as chaos meets order, hate soon gives way to friendship and then to love in the sweetest, most natural progression.
Though their romance is delightful, Jacob and Eve also face significant personal challenges and Hibbert handles these serious topics with finesse. They are both on the autism spectrum, and Hibbert sensitively portrays their perspectives while also exploring how their autism intersects with other facets of their lives.
Confident and vulnerable in equal measure, Eve values herself for the fabulous and vibrant woman she is, but she’s also cognizant of how aspects of her identity—including her race, color, size and shape—are devalued in society, especially in the performing arts. As Eve discloses to Jacob, her talent for acting was supposed to be her saving grace. Unlike her academically high-achieving older sisters, Eve struggled in school but knew she "was meant to be a star.” And yet, even in the theatrical world, being different got in the way. Her memory issues were a problem, taking direction was challenging and maybe most frustrating of all, she did not have “the look.” Eve decided a long time ago that “she was beautiful, and her body was lovely, and she would accept no other judgment on the subject.” But she also admits that she used to care. Because she was, in one view, “too fat and too dark and not entirely symmetrical,” the powers that be at her performing arts school relegated Eve to playing “the evil background character or the comedic relief.” And that hits her hard, as Hibbert demonstrates in a gorgeously written and intimate scene:
She pressed her lips together and flicked a glance at Jacob because, well, this part was so excruciatingly awkward to speak about . . . there were the people who acted like it shouldn’t hurt, being rejected by the status quo like that. As if, because it came from a twisted place of inequality, it shouldn’t have any hold on her. Which was a nice idea in principle, but Eve found it mostly came from those who’d never been personally crushed by the weight of all that disapproval.
Jacob wasn’t reacting like one of those people, though. He was simply sitting quietly, watching in silence, letting her speak. Because he was like that, when it mattered. He was like that.
What’s especially lovely is that this conversation leads to discovery and revelation for both characters, even though Eve is the primary focus.
Throughout Eve and Jacob’s story, Hibbert exhibits masterful control of plot and character. Act Your Age, Eve Brown is a wonderful blend of tropes and reality. It’s the kind of book that inspires myriad feelings: It will make you laugh, cry, sigh and swoon. But more than anything else, the experience of reading Act Your Age, Eve Brown is pure pleasure.