With her fourth novel in just two years, attorney-turned-author Jasmine Guillory has created a universe of strong Black heroines who passionately pursue love on their own terms at any age.
Passion is the thing that allows a hobby to give birth to a lifestyle. For me, it’ll be the thing that one day drives me to open a bakery using the love passed down through both of my grandmothers’ recipes. For Jasmine Guillory, it’s the thing that transformed the Bay Area native’s day job as an attorney into a full-time romance lit writing gig.
As a hopeless romantic, I’ve been obsessed with rom-com since I realized they were a thing. I can peruse the bookstore for hours on end, and don’t even get me started on the vast array of sappy Netflix films that are in my queue. But what I’ve always noticed in reading and watching this genre is that the characters rarely look like me, they live nothing like me, and they definitely don’t love anything like me.
And then Guillory and her books came along.
With degrees from Wellesley College and Stanford Law School to her name, Guillory decided it was time to make a change in her career in order to pursue the thing she loved most, and in 2018, she published her first novel. In doing so, she has created a literary universe in which her smart and cunning writing allows main characters to find love with partners who don’t mistake their boundaries as deal-breakers and respectfully adhere to each other’s relationship standards and romantic preferences.
She has created a literary universe in which her smart and cunning writing allows main characters to find love with partners who don’t mistake their boundaries as deal-breakers and respectfully adhere to each other’s relationship standards and romantic preferences.
Each of Guillory’s characters has an agency so magnetic that even in the fictitious worlds in which she writes them, they seem like friends you’d invite over for dinner. And most importantly, she’s given readers of color a reflection of themselves in a genre that doesn’t always put our stories first. With her fourth novel in just two years — Royal Holiday — hitting shelves right in time for the fall season, it’s only right to write a love letter to her work for the representation it brings.
The Wedding Date, the first of her books, centers on the relationship betweenAlexa Monroe and Drew Nichols. Alexa is the no-nonsense Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Berkeley, California when she gets stuck in an elevator with a pediatric surgeon, Drew, and agrees to be his plus one/fake girlfriend to his best friend’s wedding. Their love story blossoms in 322 pages of hilariously engaging, heart-warming storytelling with a stint of long-distance loving, grossly demanding careers, and racial differences that act as a layer to potentially drive them apart but, ultimately, pulls them together.
Each of Guillory’s characters has an agency so magnetic that even in the fictitious worlds in which she writes them, they seem like friends you’d invite over for dinner.
Add to that, Alexa is a Black girl with a fuller frame. With this, Guillory highlights what dating looks like when a confident woman with a little meat on her bones pursues things on her own terms, and wins.
In her second novel, The Proposal, we’re introduced to Carlos Ibarra and Nikole Paterson, who have the most awkward meet-cute ever at a baseball game when Nik is horrifically proposed to on the jumbotron by her boyfriend of mere months. Carlos, a doctor and the best friend to The Wedding Date’s Drew, is sitting a few seats away and rescues her from the incident.
Though their story might seem to typecast Carlos as Nik’s knight in shining armor, their fling becomes a head-over-heels love affair that addresses how grief and privilege, toxic masculinity, and insecurities affect perspectives on love. As Carlos and Nik’s dynamic unfolds, readers witness an equal distribution of emotional labor in romantic relationships and how that equality enhances romance and love.
At the start of The Wedding Party, Maddie and Theo hate each other. In the classic chick-lit kind of way, the two end up falling in love. But for every cliche trope the genre is known to personify, Guillory manages to exceed expectations with what #BlackLoveGoals really mean.
What differentiates the story between Maddie, a personal stylist, and Theo, mayoral press secretary, from the previous couples in Guillory’s interconnected universe of characters is the way in which the pair loves with an innate understanding. As the best friends to The Wedding Date’s Alexa, they are stubbornly flawed and deal with imperfections that get in the way of how they grow but they do the work to be together. Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes to get to happily ever after.
What Guillory has done is write bodies of work where Black female characters aren’t just seen as the BFFs who are delegated to bringing the wine and a good time.
What Guillory has done is write bodies of work where Black female characters aren’t just seen as the BFFs who are delegated to bringing the wine and a good time. While race isn’t the sole focus of her novels, shehas a knack for writing diverse characters without harping on their differences all while ensuring that her characters aren’t color blind to the nuances that Black women face when dating or even existing.
In these novels, I find not only characters designed to depict me — especially on the cover — but in the way they are written on the page. They happily exist with curves, go to sleep wearing headscarves, and consciously work twice as hard to get the recognition they deserve in the workplace. She’s created personas who have fulfilling careers, come from well-balanced homes, and don’t spend their lives pining after lovers who don’t wish them well. Guillory puts the romantic pursuits of a girl like me who wants to be seen, valued, and loved at the forefront of a genre that often uses us as a crutch. There’s something about really seeing yourself in a book, that makes you want to read a little faster but savor every line with intention because you know it was written with just that level of care.
After I finished The Wedding Date and the subsequent works, I recommended them to everyone I could. I went on Twitter to profess my love. I documented my reading via IG story. I told my best friend that they were a must read. I even passed them along to my mom (despite my strict “no borrowing books” policy) because she loves nothing more than getting wrapped up in a good book. One Tuesday evening, she called me in a tizzy so much so that I thought something was actually wrong. Instead, her only frustration was that she’d finished reading all the books and phoned me to demand another—as if I was the New York Times best-selling author responsible for her latest guilty pleasure.
Then almost like a serendipitous moment in my mother and my’s newly developing bond over Guillory’s work, a tweetwent viral.
In November 2018, after a story broke that Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, would be spending time in England during the winter weeks leading up to the New Year, a woman tweeted that she was in desperate need of, “a charming romance about the single mother of a new duchess falling in love with an appropriately aged royal retainer while spending Christmas at Sandringham.”
Guillory’s response: “I volunteer as tribute.”
Thus, Royal Holiday was penned, inspired by Guillory’s own love for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Royal Holiday focuses on Vivan Forrest, the mom to The Wedding Party protagonist Maddie. When the mother-daughter duo travels across the pond to England, a darling romance buds between the Forrest matriarch and a handsome private secretary to the queen, Malcolm Hudson. The pair find themselves under the mistletoe, and what initially was supposed to be a relaxing winter-time vacation in London snowballs into what could potentially be a happy new year after all.
You can tell that it’s passion that drove Guillory to tell these stories. Passion is what propelled her to take the leap of faith to change her career, develop the characters she creates, the storylines she writes, and the worlds she imagines. Passion is the thing that keeps her audience turning pages, and it’s passion for representation like this that’ll always keep me coming back for more.