Posted in: AA authors, AA romance, AA romance book promotion, willaful, willaful reviews
Tags:category romance, Kayla Perrin
Sensuality rating: steamy
This is my first book from Harlequin’s “Kimani” line, and my primary thought reading it was that it’s really messed up that there needs to be an entire separate line for romances with black characters. By any standards I can think of, Always in My Heart is a category romance — it’s a secret baby story, for crying out loud, what could be more typical? — and could be published under a general line, which makes Kimani seem like a publishing ghetto. Or is it valuable as a tool for people to easily find romances with black characters? There’s no one definite answer, as the author points out in a Karen Knows Best interview from 2007:
KP: in many ways, I understand the publishers’ dilemma. They know there is a huge AA market. They want AA readers to be able to easily identify books they might relate to. The easiest way to do that is to make the covers ethnocentric.
Booksellers say the same thing—that having an AA section where there is a large AA readership helps readers know where to go to find the stories they’re looking for. It’s the kind of question for which there isn’t necessarily an easy answer.
KKB: What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?
KP: I think there are lots of limitations, one of which is alienating the general reader. There really is a feeling, with the current marketing, that if the books are being marketed to the AA reader, then that’s the only demographic which will enjoy AA books. That’s a serious limitation.
I know there are category lines that do publish a few romances with black characters. This is what I’ve noticed in my (extremely limited) reading experience:
The Kimani romance: standard category, no major focus on race, but did include an issue particularly relevant to the characters as black people. The heroine and hero were both activists against racially motivated police violence; the original conflict between them was his joining the police force to try to improve the system from within, and her seeing this as a betrayal. Also, their son is given a West African name. I thought the story did a good job overall of having black characters without making everything be about the fact that they’re black; perhaps other readers might think there’s not enough about it.
The Silhouette Desire romance (name forgotten): This was an absolutely typical Texas tycoon story and nothing, except the cover and a very minor mention of the heroine’s skin tone, indicated in any way whatsover that the main characters were black and that the writer was black.
Of course this comparison is useless because you can’t make a judgement about entire lines based on two books. Still, it gave me food for thought. It’s as if the Desire characters were allowed to be black as long as readers don’t have to think about it; Kimani characters got a little more freedom within the basic formula, although only the most bigoted “general i.e white reader” would find anything in the story to alienate them. I’d love input and title recommendations from others who’ve read these lines more extensively.
As for the book itself: If I were rating solely on the writing, I’d give it 2 1/2 stars. The style is bland and there’s a lot of grating repetition; when every character uses the same phrase to describe a situation (“couldn’t be faithtful” is said about an offscreen character three times) it doesn’t feel real to me.
I’m rating it up a bit because I found the portrayal of Nigel so appealing. He’s very vulnerable, having loved Callie devotedly and been deeply wounded by her. Unlike many romance heroes, his pain doesn’t cause him to act out in hyper-masculinized ways; he’s a family man at heart and is still hoping to find the right woman to settle down with. Although he’s wary of Callie, fearful she’ll run away from him again, he embraces his newfound son with complete commitment.
So as a pleasant story with an appealing hero, I’m giving it three stars; I’ll probably check out the next books in the series, which will be about Callie’s sisters. You can buy Always in My Heart from Amazon here or from B&N here.
A few more pertinent comments from the interview:
KKB: Have you been personally involved in trying to bring about changes within the publishing industry, with regards to how African American authors are treated? If so can you tell me about your efforts?
KP: I have voiced my opinion in support of having an AA category for the Rita Awards, since our books don’t final (or hardly ever) in the current categories. We have some fabulous books out there, but they’re not finaling. I’d love to know why.
KKB: Do you think this will still be a controversial subject in five years time, or do you think major changes would have been made by then?
KP: The cynic in me says that in 5 years, it will still be a controversial topic. The dreamer in me hopes there’ll be substantial changes. Only time will tell!
This interview took place in 2007 — five years ago. There’s no African American RITA category and in 2012 there were no African American winners. It looks like time hasn’t told us anything very encouraging.