REVIEW: Chick Magnet by Emma Barry
Content notes: gaslighting, depression
Dear Emma Barry,
Nicole Jones, aka “Chick Nic” is a YouTuber with a big following, promoting Chickens for All. She posts regular content about owning, raising and maintaining backyard chickens. During the pandemic her channel took off – which is just as well as she was laid off from her job in marketing when the lockdowns happened. Nicole had been in a relationship with Brian who was also a YouTuber but who turned out to be a toxic gaslighter. After he accused her (falsely and publicly) of having designs on her best friend’s husband (who happened to be Brian’s best friend – Nicole and Brian met during Rose and Tony’s wedding festivities), her world imploded. The scandal caused her a lot of pain in YouTube land but worse, Rose and Tony believed Brian’s lies and Nicole also lost her best friend.
As the book begins, Nicole has just moved to Yagerstown, Virginia (Google tells me this is a fictional place) which is where her beloved Granny grew up. Even though she’s never been there before, it is a homecoming for her.
Her neighbour is Will Lund, the local vet. Will’s experience of the pandemic was not so positive career-wise. His small veterinary practice is struggling and unless he gets a break from the bank and a miracle, he will have to lay off his staff and close. He feels like a failure and he’s very depressed. He also has thoughts about Chick Nic and what he sees as her wanton encouragement of the owning of backyard chickens. He has experienced chicken owners not knowing what they are doing, suffering buyer’s remorse and dumping their chickens or not taking care of them properly and the chickens suffering for it. It’s fair to say he has a somewhat skewed view of just how responsible Nic actually is for this and how often it actually happened and, as I said, he’s depressed, so he’s inclined to take the worst view possible. He doesn’t want to admit it, but he’s nonetheless watched all of Chick Nic’s videos. She beautiful but she’s also magnetic and compelling. To cover his attraction, he leans hard on the disapproval and his general grumpy nature.
Will is beloved in Yagerstown but he’s very closed off. He has a strained and difficult relationship with his younger brother and this is enabled and abetted by his parents. His sister and he are closer but Will isn’t really close to anyone. He’s too embarrassed to admit his practice is ailing and so he has closed himself off even further from his community.
Nicole is looking for connection. Will is closed off from them. Between chasing an escaped chicken together (Mitzi) and a sick chicken emergency (Camille) necessitating a frantic trip to the vet, Nicole and Will begin to get to know one another and what they get to know, they like.
Nicole has decided to take a break from men after the heartbreak of her relationship with Brian. She isn’t pining for Brian but she feels embarrassed and humiliated that she was taken in by him for so long. And, she’s worried that maybe she somehow contributed to some of his nastiness toward others. She’s still healing and still dealing with the results of Brian’s machinations (which are continuing). She’s in no place for a new relationship. But then there’s Will.
Will, respecting Nicole’s boundaries and not wanting to get hurt by letting his emotions go when he and Nicole aren’t on the same page, tries not to act on his attraction but it’s a losing battle.
This would be a quick visit. He wouldn’t think about her hair. He wouldn’t confess anything. Under no circumstances would he flirt.
Inside, in worn jeans and Chuck Taylors, stood Nicole. She had her back to him, and her hair fell loose around her shoulders, long and shiny with the slightest curl to it.
Right, he’d already failed to ignore her hair. This was going to be disastrous.
But the thing is, as Will is failing to put on the brakes, so is Nicole. Will isn’t social but he knows that Nicole is. He hooks her into the local chicken-owning community and thereby expands her world. Having learned a bit about Nicole’s Granny, Will helps her make connections to her roots. It’s a powerful aphrodisiac.
If he kept this up, it was going to be difficult to remember she was off men.
As Nicole gets used to her new home and deals with the ongoing Brian fallout, Will tries to save his dying practice. Chick Magnet deals with the economic impacts of the pandemic directly; the swings and the roundabouts. I appreciated the representation of a small business failing; how customers were driven online by the pandemic and the hard and too slow recovery after people started going outside again. Things manage to end positively overall for Will but it’s not easy and it’s not his original dream – I thought the book deeply respected the lived experience of so many people who tried but could not get out of the hole. I liked what the book had to say about a thing failing rather than a person, that the closing of a business did not have to define a person, that it was one thing in a larger story. I liked that Will had things to work out himself and it wasn’t up to Nicole to fix it for him. I liked that Will sought therapy. I read the depiction as sympathetic, not condescending and extending grace and understanding for those adversely affected by Covid-19 and its aftermath.
Will and Nicole have excellent chemistry and their interactions were compelling to read. For different reasons, they felt like kindred spirits, notwithstanding their differing personalities. Through late night porch discussions, each found a confidant they could rely on and who would listen without judgement. In Nicole, Will found someone who would take his side and go into bat for him – something he was not getting from his family.
I couldn’t help but notice similarities between Chick Magnet and Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn which I reviewed here. They are very different books but there are some common themes. Zeitgeist I guess. Both are about coming home/finding a place of belonging, both have elements of repairing family relationships, both are grumpy/sunshine (to one degree or another) and the conflict at the end of each had commonality too. They were even released on the same day. I enjoyed Georgie, All Along very much but of the two I liked Chick Magnet better.
I also loved the way you described Will’s earlier romantic relationships.
Will knew what it meant to love someone. When it came down to it, he loved his family, which was why their criticism stung. He’d loved some of his ex-girlfriends, and that love continued to exist in some ossified form in the museum of people who he used to be.
I mean, is that not a beautiful description?
There were a couple of very little things that confused me. For example, what vet doesn’t have a pet?? Is that a thing? I thought it was kind of mandatory. Also, I was a little confused about the orientation of Nic’s and Will’s houses. They seemed to me to be both across the road from each other but also behind/adjacent to one another? This could be just me lacking spatial awareness however.
Those things did nothing to detract from a story which felt realistic (particularly as to the effects of the pandemic on small businesses and which did not try and wave magic wands for romance reasons), which made me laugh, which made me think and which had me rooting for Nicole and Will’s success and HEA.