Genre fiction lover: Romance, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
Normally I would not read a book like this. It is a Harlequin Billionaire with babies book. Not my lane. But I saw that little baby was black and wondered.... 'hmmm' I let my curiosity get the better of me and picked this up.
At the least I figured I'd have a mildly pleasant read full of Harlequin Billionaire with babies tropes. I'd find them a bit tiresome because they are so very tropey, and probably give this a generic 3-star rating and be on my way. At the most I figured I might be surprised and get a cute little story that would subvert my expectations, enjoy it more than I did.
But nope. I got a book that made fall into a rage spiral.
The book starts off pleasantly enough. Billionaire Marcus Warren and his trusty Admin Assistant Liberty are doing their daily jog while discussing the important business of running Billionaire Marcus Warren's billion-dollar empire. Why to I emphasize Marcus is a billionaire? Because he refers to himself as a billionaire about three time in the first chapter. He ruminates on how awesome it is to be a billionaire.
Liberty is super efficient, not only is she jogging with her boss discussing his day-to-day meetings, but she is taking notes while she's doing it. I actually liked Liberty here for about two minutes.
All that changes when they find an abandoned African-American baby boy ear some trash bins in the park they are running in. The two hop into action, save the baby and because of some inner revelations we learn about Liberty (more on that later) Billionaire Marcus makes sure the baby gets placed into a good foster care home.
The general story isn't a bad one. Marcus is a silver-spoon baby whose had his whole life controlled by his parents and is finally waking up and breaking free of their harmful manipulations. The finding of the abandoned baby triggers a change in the relationship he has with Liberty. She has always been his super efficient assistant. But because of her reaction to the baby he sees a softer side of her it shifts his perception of her.
One thing I did appreciate about the characterization of Marcus was that he is unapologetically a rich, trust fund kid. He wasn't a poor kid who had worked himself up into being a billionaire so he is automatically empathetic with people closer to the poverty line. I thought it was an authentic character beat for him to think the foster home the baby gets into is shabby and not very nice. When in fact it is clean and well kept and for someone like Liberty, who has much more experience in what real poverty is like, it is a very nice place. That was a good moment because it illustrated very well how different rich people really are. Marcus has never been outside of the rarefied atmosphere of his Gold Coast lifestyle so he has no yardstick to measure the gradations of lower-middle class to middle class life and what makes something 'nice' versus 'not nice' when it comes to that.
So Marcus wasn't a bad character, he was really rather ok and fairly romance novel typical.
No Liberty was the problem here. A huge problem for me.
Liberty had a horrible childhood, her mother had been a drug addict who died in prison and Liberty lived in a succession of foster homes. If that had been the sum total of it, I would have been ok with Liberty. But no, Liberty has a whole host of problems.
First, she is a bundle of utter insecurity and neurosis wrapped in a blanket of no-confidence in herself. She was a mess:
"I am a nobody"
By herself, Liberty was utterly worthless
The last three years have been a gift I don't deserve
So basically Liberty has zero sense of her own self worth. Like, zero!
Oh but it gets worse. Liberty's mother was black. And Liberty has been passing as white all this time. And it has been her dirty little secret.
There is a whole passel of "oh fuck no" that needs to be unpacked with Liberty here. Look I get it that she had a bad childhood and is probably fair enough to pass as white, but why does she need to? The author never, ever gave a reason why Liberty felt the need to utterly and completely deny her blackness. Sure I get why people would be ashamed of a drug addicted felon of a parent. But why specifically was admitting to being black so damn difficult for Liberty? At one point she says to Marcus 'have you ever tried being a black woman in this world?' (yeah this came out of Liberty's mouth). To which I mentally responded "Bitch, please. Have you?"
What is even worse, is that over and over again as Liberty mentally hand-wrings over her big secret the 'being black' part is consistently conflated with her mother being a drug addict, convict and a hooker (because of course she was). Liberty doesn't just feel shame about her mother being these things, they are always always, always mentioned in conjunction with her being black. It is as if being black is just as bad as being a drug addict and a hooker. I could not even with this.
And then we get to the whole lies part. Apparently Liberty not telling Marcus any of this falls in the realm of her telling lies and not being truthful. Unless part of her employment with him depended on her 1) being white and 2)being from a pristine background and 3) these things were explicitly asked and answered on her job application/job interview then how exactly are these lies? How much of her childhood is she required to disclose to her employer? At what point did he look at her in her three years of employment as asked her 'Hey, you're not black or anything, right?' And she said "Nope, not black. All white meat here. Damn near albino, that's me!"
When the relationship moved from Employer/Employee to lovers, of course this all comes out very dramatically and Marcus is shocked and Liberty is ashamed. He is all "Her mother was African American? An addict? And a hooker? Why hadn't she told him?" Again with the black part being given equal weight with the criminal parts... but whatevs. At that point, they'd only been boning for about a week and hadn't actually talked about where they were relationship wise.
My big problem with this is the idea that denying race is a requirement to remake yourself into something worthwhile. There are so many other ways to reclaim self worth. I do understand that there are still issues with colorism & passing even today, but there are usually some definable reasons why a person feels they need to pass. A simple "it is too hard to be black" isn't usually one of those reasons. And in Liberty's case, the author never presents anything about Liberty's lifestyle that requires her to reject her race so blatantly. She was a fucking Administrative Assistant! It isn't like she's an actress trying to get an Oscar worthy role (snerk!).
Finding a black heroine in a Harlequin romance outside of the Kimani line is like finding a tooth on a hen so it is a damned shame that she doesn't even want to be black.
So very not here for this.