Sign up for our free newsletter
Andie J. Christopher’s Not the Girl You Marry follows the basic romance novel formula—girl meets boy, boy rips girl’s clothes off, they have fantastic, very detailed sex. But it has a few twists that elevate it above the genre’s run of the mill specimens. The protagonist, Hannah, is biracial. Her boyfriend, Jack, is white. This interesting deviation from the standard formula allows the author to do more than describe oral sex, like this meditation on Hannah’s ex, Noah: “He’s wanted her to become more reserved and proper and go to law school so they could be a black power couple.”
Instead, Hannah became an event planner in Chicago, where she encounters Jack, an advice reporter who wants to advance to covering politics. She vastly prefers Jack to her ex, who “wanted her despite the fact that her family wasn’t good enough, her language was crass, and she didn’t have the capacity to sprinkle the kind of bullshit that was his area of expertise.” In yet another twist, Noah falls in love with a white society girl.
Romance novels aren’t for everyone. And Not the Girl You Marry does appeal to readers who want what a much earlier era would have called vulgarity but what is now de rigueur, namely, extremely explicit sex. A romance writer knows if they can’t do soft-core porn, their publisher will find someone else who can. Christopher is no exception. She delivers on the racy stuff and lots of it.
Though Not the Girl You Marry functions pretty well as a novel, the author is determined to jam it into the romance formula. If not for this, the book would have been about belonging. As one child asks Hannah, “You’re not white, but you’re not black, what are you?” Instead, Not the Girl You Marry glides over such questions with graphic sex and asides spoofing contemporary dating and dating apps: “They’d both be more successful looking for unconditional love if they stuck to canines. Maybe there was an app for that, too. They could each swipe right on the Fido of their dreams.”
The novel has a simple plot complication that strings out the action for most of the book, along with lengthy cogitations on being the child of divorce. Both Hannah’s and Jack’s parents divorced, and both suffer emotional consequences. They play out in romantic relationships, causing repeated failures, a topic to which Christopher devotes many pages and one that’s perfect for a romance. It’s also relevant, since there are, after all, plenty of children of divorce out there, swiping left and right on Tinder. The novel’s title tackles this question of marriage, who should marry and stay married or not.
Despite its quirks, Christopher’s book remains a typical romance. It’s been updated to fit the millennial scene, notably in the chapters which comprise sexting and in its portrayal of dick pic etiquette. Thirty years ago, romance heroines were not torn about jilting men on account of phone photos of genitalia. Mores have changed, and for anyone wanting to know how, Not the Girl You Marry is a good guide. But much has stayed the same. The pick-up scene in the bar that opens the novel could have occurred in 2019 or 1989, and so could the meditations on commitment: Reminiscences about previous relationships and how they soured are not subject to the latest technological fads. This novel is a lighter, more modern, and sassier version of something that’s been around for a long time. And like its romance genre predecessors, people will doubtless buy it to get a healthy dose of its steamy sex.
To Do This Week is your twice-weekly email roundup of arts and cultural events. It’s the perfect way to know what’s going on, and subscribing is a great way to support us.