Smexy has new reviewers! I’d like to welcome Kate H.!
Getting His Game Back by Gia De Cadenet
January 25, 2022, by Random House – Ballantine, Dell
Review by Kate H.
The main characters in Gia De Cadenet’s debut novel have a lot on their plates, and that’s even before they meet each other. Vanessa is a dynamic app developer and entrepreneur who is doing well in an industry unused to black women’s leadership. Khalil is the co-owner of a local barbershop chain in Detroit. After a suicide attempt the year before, he is receiving treatment for depression, but has yet to let any friends or family know, not even his twin brother. Vanessa walks into Khalil’s barbershop for a touch-up to her hair, and after several more appointments, texts, and phone calls, their relationship grows.
The buildup is slow and quite lovely, but one of the reasons it is slow is that both Vanessa and Khalil are battling their own reservations. Vanessa has had bad, beyond cringeworthy, experiences in interracial relationships, so one of her criteria for dating men is that they are black. Khalil is an Armenian-American and despite his name, manifestly white. Vanessa learns that Khalil’s experiences have made him more culturally sensitive than most white men, but she must decide whether that is enough to waive her guideline. For his part, Khalil suffers under the common illusion that as a man it is his job to take care of family members, friends, and Vanessa, but that he should never burden them with his “stuff.” He bottles his emotions until they come out as anger or depression. In protecting his loved ones, he winds up pushing them away.
It may sound like a very serious book, but it feels both real and warm. Gia De Cadenet’s depictions of the micro-aggressions Vanessa deals with regularly as well as Khalil’s experiences with depression are eye-opening and nuanced. But there is plenty of flirtation, humor, and passion, too. Some of my favorite scenes occurred when Vanessa is lunching with her grandmother, Ma-Max, and her best friend – the snappy dialogue was a treat. Sometimes, when Vanessa and Kahlil were discussing race or depression, it sounded a bit like model dialogue, but then again, both characters have a lot of experience to draw on when choosing the right thing to say.
I really loved the resolution of “Getting His Game Back,” too. I look forward to Gia De Cadenet’s next book!
CW: Depression, suicide