When Monique Grant is called into her boss’s office, she’s surprised to learn that the reclusive former Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo has requested her to do a puff piece on the gowns that she’s donating to charity. It’s a career maker, and Monique doesn’t understand why Evelyn picked her. What unfolds next is Evelyn recalling her life from her early years in Hell’s Kitchen all the way through the tragedies of her later life. So I need to talk about this book. There will be spoilers. You have been warned. I feel that it is my duty to warn people that there are some very serious and disturbing discussions in this book. I’ll list all of the ones I found later in my review.
First off, despite where it’s listed on Amazon… this is not a romance. Period. While there are strong romantic elements that run through this and the romance Evelyn has with her greatest love are core plot elements, the love story doesn’t end happily. Part of romance is knowing where to end the story. And this story doesn’t end happily. Not for Evelyn. Not for any of the people that she loved. Because there isn’t the happy ending, this story cannot be categorized as Romance.
Additionally, the other core character – Monique – doesn’t have a happy romantic ending. Oh she has a satisfying ending… but it’s not romantic. Her happy ending is getting closure on a great tragedy in her life, getting the opportunity of a lifetime for her career, and finding her own voice and strength. It’s a great character ARC. It’s not romance.
It’s Women’s Fiction. Or Literary Fiction. Or LGBT fiction. Or Multicultural Fiction. Or Historical Fiction. I’ll absolutely accept Divorce Fiction (which it is categorized as) and Hispanic Fiction (which it also is categorized as). But nothing in the Romance category.
Now that we have the categorization problem out of the way. I can talk more about the book.
Because I did like the book. A lot.
I fell in love with Evelyn Hugo. And while there are some very distinct similarities with Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, the stories are different enough that I don’t feel like the author was plagiarizing Kon’s work. (Which is something that I have seen happen JSYK) The framing device of telling Evelyn’s story through each of her husbands was an effective one. I also really enjoyed the various articles from news magazines and the like; it gave the book a sense of place and time. I like many of the secondary characters, and those I didn’t like were still well-developed.
That being said there are a few things I didn’t love. I was not fond of how the author/editor/ publishing house chose to write the word “OK” in the narrative. I was always taught to spell it out as “okay” when it wasn’t being used as like in a text message or in a letter. I didn’t love that Monique had some serious fat phobia. I didn’t love the ending. I want happy endings dammit!!! But it made sense in context. There were things I did love. I absolutely loved Evelyn’s embracing her bisexuality. I loved her insistence that she didn’t stop being bisexual because she was in a relationship with a man or a relationship with a woman. She wasn’t straight or lesbian. She was bi. YAY no Bi Erasure!
I liked the realism in the Hollywood studio system. That Evelyn was asked erase her Latina heritage – change her name, dye her hair, etc. I liked that the book didn’t shy away from the double standards in Hollywood. That being out was literally a career-ender. That it was a male-dominated system… and that it still is.
I really loved that Monique was a biracial woman who was learning to stand on her own two feet. I loved it when she didn’t back down. I loved that she put herself first. I loved that she could be ambitious and didn’t have to have a “cause,” that she could be ambitious for her own sake. Her Blackness was relevant but it wasn’t central to the story. It was an important aspect of her character, but it wasn’t the ONLY aspect of her character. I loved Harry. I loved Celia. I loved Evelyn.
If you think I spoiled this book before, you really need to back out now. Because this book needs all the trigger warnings. This book needed a lot of trigger warnings. There’s sexual assault. There’s child abuse. There’s underage sex. There’s rape. There’s sexual harassment. There’s domestic abuse. There’s eating disorders. There’s drug use. There’s alcoholism. There’s abortion. There’s miscarriage. There’s a pretty graphic depiction of death. There’s suicide. Our characters get cancer. There are the effects of smoking. There’s multiple major character deaths. And that’s just off the top of my head. There may be more. This book doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of life. But for those who have triggers, you need to be aware before you read this book.
And I do recommend this book. It’s a great story about what it’s like to be a Latina woman who has to scrabble and claw her way to the top of the Hollywood food chain. It’s a great story about a Black woman getting ahead and deciding what is best for herself. It’s an LBGT love story (not a romance) that doesn’t erase bisexuals and bisexuality.
And despite its miscategorization, I’m going to give this:
If this is your jam, you can get it here. But honestly, the price for the e-book is obscene… get it from the library or buy the paperback… it costs less.
If you like these kind of honest reviews, please consider supporting us here!