A Girl From Flint was fascinating in all the wrong ways but ultimately a completely satisfying read. I don't understand Urban Books. While they're shelved in the romance section most of the ones I've read have very few romantic elements. As Ridley said on Twitter "EVERY BOOK YOU LIKE WITH SEX IN IT THAT ENDS WITH THE CHARACTERS TOGETHER ISN'T A ROMANCE NOVEL." A Girl From Flint is absolutely not a romance, although it has a number of elements familiar from Romantic Suspense. Treasure Hernandez has taken that model and used it to construct a morality play. Although Tasha doesn't die, it's certainly a book intent on showing us the wages of sin are death.
It's hard to take Urban Books seriously. Between the slang and the stereotypical portrayal of black life, they read like the worst of white stereotypes. Almost everyone does drugs, even the police. Men pimp or deal dugs, women shake them down for cash unless they're a token hardworking mother left to die on their own. Bar fights are expected, if not required. With all of that said, Treasure Hernandez is compulsively readable. I completely rejected the world she was building but I found myself compelled to read on. Although the book is focused on a women who makes her living as an escort, many romance standards remain. Tasha is a hermetically sealed heroine. Men routinely hand her thousands of dollars merely to be seen with her. She saves herself for a one night stand with her one true love. Later in the book there is another (mostly) consensual sexual encounter but Tasha finds it (and the man) repulsive. This is such a fantasy world that I wanted to just stop and consider it. Tasha learns early that pretending not to be after a man's money is a fast track to having him hand her larger amounts. Men slip fat wads of hundreds into her jacket pockets and buy her designer gowns because she's willing to flatter them. She's a good girl in a world full of gold diggers so they respond generously. Tasha has a pimp she cuts into her take, but again, she doesn't trade sex for the cash. Right. Ok. Let that sit and let's move on.
Another common romantic suspense standard comes late in the book when Tasha is forced to work for the police. The heroine blackmailed into a sting operation is pretty yawn worthy at this point. We all know the hero will have her back and rush in to save the day. They might go on the run, they might not. Corruption will be exposed, names will be cleared and HEA's will fall from the sky like angel tears. Except not. The only person saving anyone is Tasha. She has to make hard choices based on incomplete evidence. Betrayal by those close to her results in... her being betrayed. There's no HEA for Tasha, no white knights and no vindication. The hard working student who had her eyes on an educational prize has been replaced by a street smart hustler with deep knowledge of the game. This is the exact opposite of the standard romance trajectory.
I'll be honest, enjoying A Girl From Flint made me feel really, really racist. Everything is wrong with this portrayal of black life. Somehow Hernandez works enough reality in there to keep the reader going. I grew up surrounded by the drug trade and street hustling. Elements of A Girl From Flint rang very true to my memory even as others made me cringe. (A character gets leg cancer. LEG CANCER. I kid you not. It's totally curable by surgery, no chemo or radiation required. LEG CANCER.) Tasha's relationships hinge primarily on how much cash her dude is putting down. She falls in love because he's the hero. He falls for her because she's "not like the other girls" who are apparently all bitches in addition to being hoes. Everything is wrong with A Girl From Flint and yet it's the only book I managed to finish this week.
* This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins.