I fell in love with Chloe Liese in August of 2020.
Willa and Ryder – almost immediately followed by Frankie and Ren – just destroyed my heart in the best way. I was struck by the stunning depiction of personal growth and depth of the emotion Liese could convey. Not to mention real talent at writing a slow burn that actually burned. Liese really made a name for themselves with emotional, nuanced stories that had characters with disabilities but they were not the only aspect of the character – just like those of us that live with any form of mental health or neurodivergence are not defined by it.
Unfortunately, this fame in our small world of romance inevitably lead to clicks and trending romances. And as Chloe Liese trended hard and chased traditional publishing. Much like Tessa Bailey and to a lesser extent Talia Hibbert and Alisha Rai before – Liese seemed to tone down their stories. Slow burn – became just plain slow. Pop culture references went from cute to heavy handed – and had a weird way of dominating storylines. And representation became so common – once could argue almost excessive – was enough to always trend with someone. All this to say… by the time If Only You came out… I was worried.
Ziggy is the youngest of the Bergman’s and was s so young in the beginning of the series we really only hear about her and specifically about her Autism Spectrum Diagnosis and the weight of that on her family. Now she is twenty-two, a professional athlete in her own right… and honestly still kind of a kid. She has been infantilized so long by her family that she really doesn’t have a voice. We are told she is shut out of conversations. We are told she is bisexual. We are told she is autistic… a lot… But honestly – it seems like her soccer ball and her what she is going to eat next (which don’t get me wrong – I love food.) are most of what we are actually experiencing with her.
And then there is Seb. Seb came out of left field – I honestly think he might have come up in Ren’s book? But either I don’t remember or he wasn’t a major player – and we are told about his trauma and his sexuality. We are told that he abuses substances. But again… it is all talk and no show.
And we definitely don’t feel any of it.
I am sure that this book works for people. And I am sure that this character feels awesome to someone who needs this rep right now. But I am over books being a **insert representation here** romance – instead of a romance that has characters who are not defined by the way they experience the world.
I was nervous to write all this. I don’t want to discourage people from enjoying authors they love. I don’t want to diminish the importance of real representation in romance. I don’t want to fight progress. But I also don’t want to read just books because they have enough of whatever is hot this month to get the algorithm on their side. I want to say that I won’t read the next one after – at best – being disappointed in the last couple but I can’t promise that. Like any good Romancelandia family – I want to know what happens to everyone… but I am also not sure that this is the author for me anymore.