Tansy is supposed to be getting married. Instead, after discovering her ex-fiancée having sex with one of the wedding caterers, she’s getting a tattoo. The tattoo she’s always wanted and her controlling partner has always stopped her getting.
Cai doesn’t do commitment. She’s happy on her own, independent and invulnerable. But when an adorable, impertinent, and deeply damaged Tansy appears in the tattoo parlour where she works, she’s tempted to reconsider.
Her Hometown Girl is a love story that’s also about rebuilding identities and recovering from abusive relationships. In case it wasn’t clear from the set-up above, both of the main characters are women.
The slightly twee name is misleading – this isn’t really a girl-next-door type of romance. Unusually for a romance, the book dives almost straight in with an unflinching portrayal of rape and domestic violence. Matched against the title and cover, it’s jarring, but the book itself isn’t. It’s not a simple, airy love story, but one dealing with a lot of pain; the scenes are distressing, but not gratuitous.
There’s a reasonable amount of sex in the book, and it tends towards the more explicit end of things, rather than fading to black or consisting primarily of burning kisses and losing oneself. There’s also an element of BDSM that’s not really hinted at by the blurb; it’s nothing too extreme, but you should be aware that the romance does involve non-standard power dynamics. Again, it matches the story and belongs; it’s not a case of a fetish being tacked-on.
The main thing that stands out about Her Hometown Girl is that it expects a lot of the reader. It expects you to grapple with quite complex and emotional ideas, when that’s not what most romances demand. It expects you to understand and accept things that are somewhat unusual. I like that – “lesbian BDSM romance with undertones of domestic violence” is a difficult elevator pitch, and it would be so easy for Her Hometown Girl to fall into gratuity and shock value, but it doesn’t. It’s a love story, and it expects the reader to treat it as a love story. The fact that it’s not heterosexual and there are darker plots and unusual sexual politics isn’t important to that core idea, these things are details about the story, not the heart of it.
I think that’s an important thing. Romances tend to reinforce social attitudes a lot, to play it safe and stereotypical. Tall billionaires end up with petite blonde virgins, and other possibilities get pushed aside. Her Hometown Girl strikes against that, and it does that by not making an issue of it, by being a story with these elements and not one built on them. I’m aware of the irony in highlighting that tactic, but I felt it was something that the book did really well.
I should mention, of course, that while the book isn’t stereotypical, it doesn’t dispense with the fundamentals of romance. The main couple are convincing, and the ending is satisfying. It’s everything you want from a romance, filled with heartbreak and yearning and final fulfillment.
The prose never gets in the way, and is used effectively. The writing is engaging throughout, shocking and sweet and tense where it needs to be. The plot hangs together and doesn’t have any glaring issues, although there was one subplot that I felt needed either more development or less presence.
The key idea here is that Her Hometown Girl is a romance, and it’s sweet and satisfying, and compelling. It’s definitely not hackneyed or overly-reliant on tropes. It’s not always an easy read, and there is real conflict throughout. I enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it.
I received a copy of this book from Net Galley. I don’t believe this has affected the impartiality of my review.