Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Eve Brown is going nowhere. After a disastrous attempt at planning a wedding for a bridezilla (where it actually went fairly well save for the bridezilla and Eve’s freeing of very expensive, very starved doves), Eve is ready for a new start. Take fourteen or fifteen. When her parents cut her off until she finds a job she can hold for more than a year, Eve leaves the house…and stumbles into an interview at a B&B for a chef’s position. The owner is churlish but hot, and the interview goes poorly, until Eve accidentally runs him over in her car. Filled with guilt, Eve agrees to help out, but her feelings for Jacob are literal fire. Can a free spirit and an over-bearing control freak make it work?
“Are you sure you didn’t come here to kill me?” he asked.
“But you’re so good at it. You half murder me on a regular basis completely by accident.”
This. Was. Absolutely. Delightful.
The banter, the chemistry, the oddball sense of humor—everything was spot on.
I utterly adored Eve—from her sex-positive view of the world (she’s been eagerly awaiting a Captain America fanfic update featuring titty fucking since 2017) to her general positivity. Despite growing up in wealthy, she’s had to face harsh reality ever since she was brutally cut down from her dreams of being a professional singer by teachers and classmates who told her she didn’t have the right look, due to her race and body shape. After that, she never really tried at anything and took any small misstep as a sign of failure and that it was time to move on and try (and fail) at something else.
Then 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 on principle, but Eve round it mostly came from those who’d never been personally crushed by the weight of all that disapproval.
I…completely understand this position of never wanting to try too hard in order to get your dreams dashed (after having your true passion crushed to a pulp), and leaving at the first failure point. Resilience is hard, particularly when your support structure is outwardly great but inwardly not great, and when you’ve been cut down so many times. Learning to recover from failure and continue through friction is hard, and it’s harder still to develop conflict resolution skills.
It’s even harder when you are in an environment filled with people with the right traits, who have only experienced failure through others and who blithely look down at those who “failed” (mainly due to not having the right traits, which tend to be out of that person’s control) and say, “Well, someone has to be last—don’t beat yourself up about it just try harder.” Add that to Eve’s past trauma of dealing with micro-aggressions and outright racism, and it’s understandable of her ability to cut and run.
Why should she potentially put herself into another situation like the first ever again? Why should the onus to change the situation be on her, instead of the perpetuators of the system? Being the squeaky wheel is hard, dammit, and emotionally and physically draining.
However, I did like how it was shown that she was a people-pleaser, always seeking outside validation from her friends and support networks while never letting herself get too close because they would always cut her off. She allowed herself to be used by her friends (to outrageously presumptive degrees) so she could stay in the inner circle, and picked up new and different skills to stay friends with them (I hate all her old friends btw, those posh asses). Eve had an innate sense of knowing what people really wanted and how to get them those things, and that kind of initiative and attentiveness is something that should be treasured and not taken advantage of, because it is a really rare trait.
But there were social scripts to be observed beyond fondness > physical contact > emotional commitment, and even if those scripts had never felt natural to Jacob, he’d learned them well enough to copy.
He is autistic, and has learned to navigate the world by learning the scripts and expectations of the absolutely baffling neurotypical society (truly, it is baffling—where do people learn how much eye contact is right and how much becomes too creepy or whatever?). His exacting perfectionism and dedication to routine worked really well in the luxury hotel business, but he’s struggling to fully realize his dream as a B&B owner because he is not the warm, welcoming and cuddly type.
He needs someone to balance him out, although Eve is the furthest person from his mind.
However, despite Eve’s flighty nature, Jacob realizes she’s really, really good at the job. Unprompted, she read all his manuals (with hilarious titles), memorized them, and followed them to a T in order to ensure perfection and a successful business.
Jacob couldn’t abide tears in the kitchen. He didn’t need rogue DNA in his guest’s eggs.
While their relationship got off to a very rough start (I mean, running over someone would do that), I absolutely adored their banter and their chemistry. The way Jacob and Eve navigated their power differentials of employee vs supervisor, and how Eve brushed off Jacob’s brusque nature (she realized he was really soft under his layers of armor—as his best friend Mont had told her), although the way Jacob agonized over fucking his employee annoyed the hell out of me.
Like—kids. Just talk it over, okay!
Yet these are two people who have never really been taught communication or conflict resolution skills. Jacob grew up with two neglectful parents, who were more interested in how their autistic child cramped their carefree traveling lifestyle than providing him with routine or structure or love. He found his family with his aunt and cousin, but the wounds cut deep. And Eve grew up the youngest sister in a wealth family, with two high-powered, successful parents who loved her but didn’t understand her, and two driven, single-mindedly focused sisters.
Anywho, it’s a romance, so they do overcome their differences, complete with a traffic jam, motorcycle, and annoyed drivers.
And it was absolutely lovely.
Oh, and there is a lot of food too! And genital cakes! And The Great Dildo Incident! And more food!
The best part of the ending to this trilogy (and I love, love, love reading Eve and Jacob’s POV) was the hint of a spin-off series with the Mont(rose?) siblings. I would die to get that, because they were fantastic!
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Act Your Age, Eve Brown releases March 9, 2021 from Avon