Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Content warning: adult language, explicit sexual content
Take a Hint, Dani Brown (2020, 400 pages) is a steamy contemporary romance written by British novelist Talia Hibbert. Hibbert is a USA Today bestselling author and Take A Hint, her 16th novel, has been named one of the best romances of 2020 by Apple, Kirkus, Washington Post and Amazon. Although the novel can be read as a standalone romance, it is the second volume in the 3-part The Brown Sisters series about three fabulous sisters from a wealthy Black British family of Jamaican descent. Take a Hint is a friends-to-lovers romance about the second eldest Brown sister, 27-year-old Danika, a Ph.D. student and member of the junior teaching staff at her university, and her Pakistani work friend, Zafir Ansari, a 31-year-old ex-rugby player, who works as a security guard at the building Dani teaches. The novel takes place six months after bisexual career-driven commitment-phobe Dani and grumpy, romance novel reading Zaf first meet, and trace the evolution of the two friends’ relationship from casual flirtation to falling in love.
Take a Hint starts with Dani performing a ceremony dedicated to the goddess Oshun, the deity of love, beauty and abundance, with her best friend Sorcha. Since ending her friend-with-benefits (FWB) arrangement the previous month, Dani has not had any luck in the romance department and is seeking divine intervention to help get out of her rut. Dani’s situationship ended after her FWB wanted romance and Dani, “couldn’t think of anything less suited to her skill set”, so Dani’s request from Oshun was very specific, “Oshun, I need […] someone who won’t expect more from me than I can give”.
Five months later, Dani and Sorcha are in a coffee shop and Dani picks up her order of green tea and an order of Black coffee for Zafir. Dani and Zaf often exchange food with each other, with Dani always bringing Zaf a cup of coffee because he never sleeps well and Zaf always giving Dani a protein bar because she never has the time for breakfast. When Sorcha teases Dani about her “gorgeous security friend”, Dani quickly dismisses Sorcha’s comment because despite her attraction to his long dark eye lashes, brown skin and broad chest, Zaf is not the type of guy Dani is looking for: “unfortunately, Zaf […] avoided staring at Dani’s chest with the kind of Herculean focus that suggested either disinterest or an excess of chivalry – and Dani couldn’t stand chivalry in a man.”
Zaf is also attracted to Dani, “a good woman who made him think filthy thoughts”, but he thinks Dani is gay and based on staff gossip “Danika Brown was the queen of one-time things […], so she wasn’t for him and he wasn’t for her”. But when Dani gets stuck on a broken elevator during a safety drill and suffers a small wrist injury, Zaf swoops Dani into his arms “like a bride” and carries out her out the building, where students milling around the front of the building, “seemed thrilled by Dani and Zaf’s sudden appearance, pointing and whispering among themselves like she was someone exciting”. Soon Dani and Zaf become social media darlings around campus, earning them the name #DrRugbae on Instagram.
Zaf’s niece Fatima suggests that Zaf use the social media interest in his and Dani’s relationship status as an opportunity to gain some publicity and sponsors for his non-profit, Tackle It, a foundation that teaches young rugby players that dealing with their mental health didn’t make them “weak”. Zaf started Tackle It after suffering a devastating personal loss that exacerbated his anxiety and led to clinical depression, eventually costing him his rugby career. Wanting to help Zaf’s foundation as well as having the ulterior motive of wanting him to be her next conquest, Dani agrees to fake a relationship with Zac in order to maintain social media interest in them and by extension, Tackle It. The remainder of the novel follows the couple as their fake relationship slowly turns into something more real and both Zaf and Dani, but mostly Dani, have to decide whether they want to pursue a real relationship with each other.
I love, love, love the diversity in this book, which is a defining feature of all of Hibbert’s novels. Take a Hint offers readers diversity in religious, ethnic, sexual orientation and even body type (no size 2 women in this book)! Even more gratifying is that the novel features an interracial relationship between a Black woman and a South Asian man. In an interview with NPR, Hibbert discusses her reason for this choice , “it was also important to me to highlight that interracial relationships don't always involve a white person. In my family, my maternal grandparents had an interracial relationship that didn't involve a white person.” Too often diversity in romance novels means a biracial woman, with “exotic features” (whatever that means), and a white partner but, in the Caribbean, where I (and Hibbert’s paternal grandparents) am from, most interracial relationships are between people of African and South Asian descent. So, to me, Dani and Zaf’s romance was literature finally representing real relationships that I saw growing up in the islands. Another thing I loved about Take a Hint is that Hibbert presents a side of the U.K. that many don’t know exists – a country with racially diverse urban areas of 2nd ,3rd , 4th etc., generation Britons of Caribbean and South Asian heritage.
Hibbert does an excellent job of writing two compelling characters in Dani and Zaf. Bits and pieces of Dani’s character reminded me either of myself or of people I knew in graduate school, for example, I can totally relate to Dani’s enthusiasm and over-preparation when she was scheduled to participate in a discussion panel where her shero, a Black female tenured professor in her area of study, would also be present. In my 10+ years of graduate school I never met any Black female tenured professors in my area of study, so I completely understand Dani’s geek-out and her almost obsessive drive to make sure her presentation was flawless. I also loved that Hibbert reversed the stereotypical gender roles and made Dani the character with commitment issues. And having been in graduate school, Dani’s reasons for avoiding a serious relationship made sense, “I am entirely too busy for dating and ego-stroking and sharing my feelings and meeting people’s parents.”
Similarly, I appreciated Hibbert’s decision to make Zafir the character with the mental health issues. Too often women are the characters with anxiety and/or depression, especially after suffering some personal trauma. It is a very irksome trope, not only because it plays into the stereotype that women are overly emotional, but also because it shortchanges men by suggesting that men can’t feel things deeply or don’t need help to recover from personal loss. Hibbert’s deft handling of the topic of mental illness, especially among men in sports, was a breath of fresh air and added complexity to Zafir’s character and depth to a novel with an otherwise predictable plot.
It's hard not to fall in love with both Dani and Zaf because taken together, they face some very heavy issues to which many can relate. Dani is a Black woman in academia, who faces constant pressure to prove herself, and Zaf is a Pakistani Muslim man in a sport with almost no players like himself, in country where Muslims are often harassed for simply existing. But Hibbert does a good job of acknowledging these issues without dwelling on the dark side of the pressures Dani and Zaf most certainly face. Creating such relatable, thoroughly likable characters in a light summer romance is remarkable and a sign of a talented, mature writer.
Take a Hint is the fifth novel I have read from Hibbert, but it is by far one of her funniest novels. I love the witty banter between Dani and Zaf, which is always dry, but never mean-spirited:
She shot him a glare. “Why do I put up with you?” “I think it has something to do with my wonderful beard.”
Another comedic gem is when Zaf accidentally hits play on his romance audiobook in front of Dani, right at the part when the characters are sharing an intimate moment:
He’d managed to press Play on his latest audiobook. Zaf grabbed his phone and
fumbled with the earbuds wrapped around it – the same earbuds that hadn’t
stopped him from hitting Play but now acted as some kind of impenetrable […]
shield protecting the Pause button.
Hibbert's ability to make me laugh from something as prosaic as trying to silence a ringing cellphone is one of the most delightful and unexpected things I loved about this novel. Take a Hint is chocked full of such comedic gems, most of which are adult-themed but are definitely laugh out loud funny.
Fans of contemporary romance, particularly those who enjoy Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date Series, will love Take a Hint. The main difference between Take a Hint, or the Brown Sisters series, and The Wedding Date Series, is that Hibbert uses more adult language and her intimate scenes are far steamier than Guillory’s. Aside from that, both Hibbert and Guillory write about the same kinds of Black women – well-educated, successful, independent, and superbly clever Black women who become involved in interracial relationships and not always with white partners. Basically, both Hibbert and Guillory write about women I know in real life but who are rarely represented in romance novels.
I give Take a Hint 5 out of 5 stars because it is a much needed breath of fresh air in a genre that is notoriously lacking in diversity, both in terms of writers and also in storylines. Hibbert manages to include a lot of diversity without making it seem as if she is checking off boxes on a diversity bingo card. Every choice Hibbert makes is purposeful and fits seamlessly into the novel, her characters are interesting and compelling and although you know the ending before you even start reading the book (after all, this is a happily-ever-after novel), readers will enjoy the ride that Hibbert takes you on! If you love contemporary romance, especially those with extra steamy sex scenes, then then you will love Take a Hint, Dani Brown!