I selected Curl Around My Heart for Diverse Books Week in our Reading Challenge Month because it features MCs of color. I was intrigued by a male salon owner who let his fabulous flag fly often.
Tate Robinson is an out-and-proud black man running his own hair salon, and kicking it for realz in his high heels. He’s queen of the shop and not afraid to dish out tough love…when asked. One night, when his pumps are about to quit, a sexy young father arrives with his football-playing daughter, needing a comb out before picture day.
Turns out that the father and daughter, Reece and LJ, have moved into the apartment above Tate’s. And, when Tate gets irate about their noise, well, he gets harangued into doing young LJ’s hair. Tate is growing a tender spot for little LJ (his Ladybug!) and she’s not too shy to out her father as bisexual. LJ would be thrilled if Tate would date her father, but Reece is barely making ends meet and he suffers a shortage of confidence. His relationship with LJ’s mother went bad from the start, and though he’s gainfully employed, there isn’t room in their budget for the weekly hair maintenance his daughter needs. What does he have to offer a successful, sexy man like Tate? Instead, Reece strikes a bargain with Tate: home-cooked meals and general household repairs in exchange for comb outs and conditioning treatments. And this does turn into date nights.
LJ’s thrilled to have Tate in her life, but her mother, who is struggling to overcome heroin addiction, isn’t—and neither are her conservative grandparents. They want nothing to do with Reece, and want to raise Lettie Jean on their own. With Tate a regular fixture, they seem ready to take legal action.
This is a sweet and occasionally sexy story. Both Reece and Tate have trouble in their families. Tate’s father hasn’t disowned him, but he’s outwardly cold, and regularly shuts down any talk of Tate’s success, or sex life, at his family dinner table. Meanwhile, Reece’s mother talks down to him, treating him as if he’s still the high school screw-up who knocked up his girlfriend and dropped out of school. He can’t get her to see that he’s a responsible, grown man taking good care of his daughter—and taking night school to finish his degree. I really liked how Reece and Tate complement each other—they see the man before them, not the shadows their families perpetuate. Reese is wild about Tate’s outre look, and does his darnedest to show it, while Tate’s deeply touched by how loving Reece is to LJ. Still, Tate is certain Reece will want him to “tone it down” at some point, and he’s a bit hypersensitive due to bad experiences with other men. And Reece’s insecurity over his lack of success is a hotbed of struggle that he needs to overcome, and Tate’s constant support helps him do that.
Naturally, the world creeps in. This, I thought, was the weakest part of the story. Reece has shown himself to be a fit parent, yet the legal battle to retain full custody of LJ takes a turn that didn’t feel natural, not in present-day California where the story was set, anyway. It causes strife for Tate and Reece, but they overcome it at exactly the right moment. And, they mend fences with their families during that crisis, too.
I loved the exploration of black family life, and the language grounded this story firmly in middle-class California culture. Little LJ fair steals the scene on occasion, and her boundless love for Tate was awesome to experience. In the end, it’s a touching and sweet story with some excellent cultural and beauty-shop context. Expect some teary moments and a love to last the ages. The review copy I read had some distracting typo issues, but was otherwise a breeze to read.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Diverse Books Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of our amazing diverse books prize packs. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Diverse Books Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.