REVIEW: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Dear Ms. Guillory,
I was on the fence about reading The Proposal because of a controversy regarding this interview with you at Bitch Media. The interviewer presented your debut novel as revolutionary because it was “a romance novel written by a Black woman with a Black woman protagonist that was released by a major publisher.” Other books fit that description long before The Wedding Date—the entire Kimani line comes to mind—and some of their authors were understandably unhappy.
But then a friend suggested that I give The Proposal a chance anyway, and I decided to go ahead because I enjoyed The Wedding Date and because I think Berkeley is doing a great thing in giving a diverse book a big marketing push and I want to support that.
The Proposal begins at Dodger Stadium. Journalist Nikole “Nik” Paterson is attending a game with her hipster boyfriend, Fisher, and a group of Fisher’s friends in honor of Fisher’s birthday when Fisher proposes to her via the JumboTron. Not only is Fisher a shallow actor whom Nik has been dating for only five months, he did not consult her about his public proposal and her name is even misspelled on the JumboTron.
So Nik has no choice but to decline Fisher’s proposal in the most public way possible. An irate Fisher leaves in a huff, and Nik is quickly swarmed by TV cameras.
Also in the stadium that day are Carlos Ibarra and his sister Angela. Seeing Nik’s distress, Carlos takes a page from a cousin’s book and, along with Angela, approaches Nik, pretending that they know her and are happy to be reunited with her. Then the three leave the stadium, evading the cameramen.
Since Nik arrived with Fisher, Carlos and Angela offer her a ride home. She asks to be dropped off at her favorite bar, where she’s meeting her two close friends, Courtney and Dana, a cupcake baker and an actress, respectively. Nik invites Carlos and Angela to hang out with them, and they do. Although Carlos is attracted to Nik, he does not ask for her number because she literally *just* got out of a relationship.
But Nik tracks down his email to thank him, and this turns into a series of texts back and forth, and eventually, dates. The chemistry between Nik and Carlos is undeniable, but both are commitment-shy. Nik because she was hurt by a past boyfriend, Justin (like Carlos, a doctor) who denigrated her work, and Carlos because the death of his father has left him feeling responsible for helping out the women in his family and he doesn’t have the bandwidth to give to a serious relationship.
Carlos is especially worried about his pregnant cousin Jessica, and when Jessie is diagnosed with preeclampsia twenty-eight weeks into her pregnancy, it’s all he can do not to freak out. He nags Jessie about getting enough rest and taking care of herself, while ignoring her and Angela’s suggestions to (since his father died of a heart attack) get a physical and have his cholesterol levels checked.
Nik is concerned that Fisher might retaliate for her public rejection of his proposal, and decides to take a self-defense class called Punch Like a Girl. That’s how she, Courtney and Dana discover Natalie’s Gym, and Natalie, the owner / instructor. The class is empowering and the gym a supportive environment. Between the class and her dates with Carlos, Nik finds herself in a better place, emotionally, than she has been in a while.
Still, whenever Courtney and Dana suggest to Nik that her relationship with Carlos might be getting serious, she brushes off their conclusions. She and Carlos are good friends with excellent benefits, but that’s all.
Will Nikole and Carlos ever see that there’s more than that to their relationship? Will Nik get an opportunity to use her newly acquired self-defense chops? Will Jessie’s pregnancy turn out all right? And can Nik’s commitment-phobia melt away?
As much as I enjoyed The Wedding Date, The Proposal is an even stronger book. Nik is a lovable character, blunt but good-hearted, a good friend to Dana and Courtney, and kind to casual acquaintances, too. For example, even before she knows him well, she helps Carlos choose books for his cousin Jessie. Nik is also stronger and more resilient than she herself realizes.
Carlos was an appealing secondary character in The Wedding Date and is even more so as a central character here. Even still grieving for his father, and trying to carry the weight of that loss by making up for it with the women in his family, he is kind and supportive to Nik and to the teens who come to the clinic he helps run. He’s also a foodie, one who not only knows all the best places to eat, but how to cook well himself.
Not only do the main characters come from diverse backgrounds—Nik is African-American and Carlos Mexican-American–but the secondary characters do too. Jessie and Angela are Mexican-American, Dana queer and Natalie bi. A sweet, if mostly off-page, secondary F/F romance develops between Dana and Natalie later in the book.
At least four of the secondary characters—Angela, Jessie, Courtney and Natalie—are so vibrant that they leap off the page. Even the prequel-baiting is cute, with Nik and Alexa rolling their eyes at Carlos and Drew for not telling each of them that the other was also black.
We get to see characters at their jobs, too—Nik conducting an interview, Natalie giving fitness instructions, and Courtney running her cupcake business. I would have loved to see more of Carlos in his position as assistant director of the teen clinic at the Eastside Medical Center, but we even got a little of that. There was a lot of career and competency porn in this book that I ate up with a spoon.
Additionally, the book was almost as much about girl power as it was about Carlos and Nik’s romance. The friendships between women were supportive and meaningful.
As an Angeleno, I loved the authenticity with which Los Angeles was portrayed, and the shout-outs to real businesses like Night + Market, a Thai restaurant in West Hollywood, or Skylight Books, a Los Feliz bookstore.
I can only think of two minor criticisms to make. Initially, this book was less page-turning than The Wedding Date because of the subplot about the self-defense class which took some focus off the development of the romantic relationship. Eventually, though, the that subplot connected to the main storyline, and the two threads were woven together in a way that was truly inspired.
My other nitpick is that when Nik finally uses her self-defense skills on someone, that person came across to me as more annoying than threatening, so I wasn’t convinced that her punch was justified.
I had a blast reading The Proposal. It’s an effervescent, even buoyant read, and readers looking for a good light contemporary will find a lot to appreciate here. B+/A.