His Fair Lady by Kimberly Gardner

His Fair LadyWhy I read it:  I bought this after I saw Jayne’s review on Dear Author.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Mark Talleo is something of a dog with the ladies. Any girl, anytime, anywhere is his motto until he meets Josie Frazier. The long lean redhead not only shares his love of musical theatre, but her smoky sexy voice and infectious laugh drive Mark wild and haunt his every step. Equally fascinating is his sense that she has a secret, one he is determined to uncover on his way to becoming her leading man.

Josie does have a secret, one she guards with her whole self. Although she has always known she was female, her name used to be Joey and she’s still biologically male. As much as she yearns for love and acceptance, her fear of rejection is just as strong.

Mark’s need to know the truth is matched only by Josie’s need to hide it. But when malicious gossip reveals her deepest secret the price of honesty may turn out to be too high to pay. But if each can accept that the woman he wants is the woman she is then at last he may find His Fair Lady.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I’m so glad I read this book. It was so good.

I’ve been meaning to diversify my reading further but so far have largely been defeated by the size of my TBR.   Since I started reading m/m romance and hanging out on Twitter, I’ve become more open generally and much more socially aware.  I still have a long way to go of course but I’m not as blind to things as I once was. And I’ve found that fiction is both a safe space and a great way for me to learn about people I might not get to meet in my real life white bread world.

His Fair Lady features a transgirl, Josie Frazier.  When I was tweeting about how much I enjoyed the book, I wondered whether saying that Josie was trans was something which needed to be mentioned.  Because on one level, it just didn’t. I liked Josie for herself and not because or in spite of her genitalia or her gender identify. On another level however, I realised that, at least in this case, it’s kind of necessary.  Because the conflict of the story is all about Josie dating a guy who doesn’t know she’s trans and then him finding out.

But it is only in that sense that it is necessary. (That made more sense in my head).  Josie is a girl.  She lives as a girl and has done since she was 6 years old (she was blessed with understanding parents who supported her), She takes hormones and, yes, she has a penis and testicles but I never thought of her as anything other than a girl. I liked her very much and she was the kind of girl I’d like to be friends with – smart, talented and kind.

I understood why she didn’t tell Mark she was trans.  And I understood that the more they became involved, the harder it was for her to tell him and the more hurt he was going to be when he found out – as he inevitably would. I also understood that it’s a thing Mark would want to know, whether or not it made any difference to his feelings or attraction for Josie. But it’s not the sort of thing that would (or ought to) matter or make any difference to a casual friendship and I would expect anyone to roll it out until a level of trust had been developed between the parties and until it became obvious it was something that was going to have to be addressed.  (That is, at some point, if all goes well, they’re going to get naked together and at that point it would be kind of obvious – hence disclosure was required for any kind of successful long term relationship).

Mark Talleo comes across initially as a bit of a player.  He bolts at the mention of the “L word” and he’s mid fade away with his ex-only-she-doesn’t-know-it-yet-girlfriend, Vi, when he meets the beautiful Josie and is deeply smitten.  Mark always thought of Josie as a girl too.  Even after he finds out she’s trans, she’s always a girl. I suppose a lot (?) of guys would baulk at finding out their girlfriend is a transgirl but Mark was really only hurt by the lies of omission (whether he would have dated her if he had known from the start is never addressed, but I think he probably wouldn’t have.  It would have been his loss and my sense was he realised all of that when he forgave Josie).  He was also raised in a liberal household and his older brother is gay.  Mark knows what it is like to be teased and harassed because of something you can’t change – in his case, he was teased because his brother was gay (and his brother was harassed too) and in Josie’s case, she faces harassment (and worse) for not being cisgendered. He has empathy for her position once he gets over himself a little, and he accepts her for her, just as she is.

I liked both Josie and Mark and they were good together. They talked and enjoyed each other’s company as well as being physically attracted to one another. They both had an interest in singing, dancing and the theatre.  My impression was that the girls who had floated in and out of Mark’s life (okay, bed) were passing fancies but with Josie he found the real deal and he was smart enough to recognise it.

I also liked Josie’s best friend and roommate Kyle.  Yes, he’s gay but he wasn’t the stereotypical sassy gay friend  He was also fiercely protective of Josie but not so much that he didn’t encourage her to date Mark and see how things went.

What else? It wasn’t a perfect book – there were some plot threads that didn’t really go anywhere or which weren’t finished off/were unclear but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone by going into more detail.  For someone with as little sexual experience as Josie, I did think they progressed to some explicit phone sex pretty quickly.  Mark’s acceptance of Josie and all of her body was maybe (?) fast but, frankly, I wanted their happy ending so badly that it worked for me.

I did have a number of wildly inappropriate questions (the answers to which are probably none of my business even if the questions do relate to fictional characters) but I also developed the (very) beginning of an appreciation of what it might be like to be a transgirl, the challenges they face in being accepted for who they are. It made me aware, in new ways, of just how great my privilege is.  Author Joanna Chambers, in a recent post said this:

Art is the greatest teacher because it can make us understand things beyond our experience. Because it shows rather than tells. If you’re willing to open yourself up to it, you can live another life in a small way, for a little time.

and it struck me when I read it that her post was mirroring my own thoughts at the time about the power of fiction.

Should I get brownie points for reading about a transgirl?  No.  I’m glad I read His Fair Lady because it was a delightful story.  It was well written and I was completely invested in both characters.  While I do want to diversify my reading, I also want stories to entertain me (in the romance, falling in love, HEA/HFN sense).  I want the characters to grab me and make me care.  That’s what I want in any romance.

To paraphrase Notting Hill, at its heart, His Fair Lady is a simple story of a girl standing in front of a boy and asking him to love her. I was hooked from the beginning and I read the whole thing in one sitting. I enjoyed both Josie and Mark –  they made mistakes with each other, but they did the best they could with what they had and they were good together.

Grade: B+



2 comments on “His Fair Lady by Kimberly Gardner

  1. cleo

    I read this because of Jayne’s review too. I also liked it – although I had trouble buying the romance. Mark shifted from player chasing a pretty girl to devoted boyfriend a little too quickly for me, although I did like that they had things in common. I was really cheering them on by the end of the story.

    It really bothered me that Josie got sexual with Mark before disclosing. It seemed like a big betrayal of trust, bigger than not telling him when they were getting to know each other (which made sense to me).

  2. Kaetrin

    @cleo: I know what you mean about the change in Mark. I put it down to the right woman at the right time.

    I could understand why Josie was so reticent in telling Mark. The more she liked him, the more she had to lose if he reacted badly. I did think there was some inconsistency a la her lack of sexual experience and the speed at which things moved along and I think Mark would have reacted much better if she’d told him herself and if she’d told him before any of their activities got below the waist – but I guess that would have been low conflict and in story terms maybe not so compelling?

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