I’m way too old to have read Cabot’s Princess Diary books, but glad I’m old enough to enjoy her contemporary romance. Despite its rom-com cover, No Judgments, though often droll, tackles sombre issues for its protagonist and narrator, Sabrina “Bree” Beckham. Bree has divided her life between when-she-was-Sabrina and lived in Manhattan as a law student with a famous mom and a trust fund and, at present, Bree, living humbly in Florida’s fictional Little Bridge Island, waitress, art-dabbler, and cat owner. (Indeed, Bree’s imperious former-shelter-cat Gary is one of the most charming of the island’s denizens, feline, canine, or human.) But darker events than law-school-dropping-out brought Bree to Florida: her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, oh, not with another woman, but by excusing his best friend’s execrable behaviour, behaviour that left Bree with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. But there’s one man who breaks through her wariness, sexy Drew Hartwell, her bosses’ nephew and resident renovation-king-and-heartthrob. When Hurricane Marilyn bears down on Little Bridge Island, Drew and Bree, despite their initial banterish dislike (which we always know masks healthy-lust-like), work together to ensure evacuees’ left-behind animals are cared for, while falling into love and between Drew’s bed-sheets.
Cabot’s novel riffs on the idea of reserving judgment as a way to reveal and develop character. It isn’t heavy on conflict, not even Hurricane Marilyn is that nasty, but focuses on the heroine’s regaining her sense of self as a strong person, a sexual one, and a creative artist. Bree’s impetus in coming to Little Bridge Island was to shore up her damaged self from a relationship gone wrong and her father’s not-too-distant loss. But the person who looms large and impassable is Bree’s mother, a kind of Judge Judy figure, wealthy, successful, celebrated, and with clear ideas about what Bree should be doing with her life, ideas that clash with Bree’s, and have nothing to do with sexy carpenters, animal rescue efforts, painting clouds, and living a quiet life within the bosom of a small island community.
I liked Bree because she was a resister, resisted her mother’s insistence that she let her get Bree off the island before the hurricane, resisted her fears and insecurities, but never acted out of witless bravado. I also liked her because she cared about animals and people. She resisted and then, she embraced: friendship, affection, the beautiful, sexy, funny Drew, his adorable, loving family, making her circle of love and friendship grow concentrically outward from Gary.
If I have any criticisms, they lie in two areas. Firstly, when Bree’s confrontation with her ex came round, it was more farcical than profound. Nevertheless, I loved the way she walked away from him and how Drew, though fiercely, adorably protective, let Bree deal with him herself. Likewise, her reckoning with her mother who, in the end, is a loving reconciliation and a renewed relationship for the future. All transpired hastily in the final few chapters, a tad underdevelopped. Secondly, I like to have some insight into the hero, I like him too to struggle with this love thing. But the novel is squarely about Bree’s growth into healthy love and laughter. Which is a-okay because that was Cabot’s decision. Drew was in a different place from Bree, ready to love and commit, which didn’t make him a mooning nincompoop. He was funny, sexy, handsome, and loving, with Bree and his many rescue dogs (hilariously all named Bob), but definitely cardboard hero-fare.
I enjoyed Cabot’s smooth prose, witty dialogue, talent for writing animal-adorableness, and the world she creates on this small island. I admit, though I’d love to have seen more romancy-romance, I am looking forward to the next Bridge Island novel, hubba, sexy sheriff and librarian! With Miss Austen, we found, in No Judgments, “real comfort,” Emma.
Meg Cabot’s No Judgments is published by William Morrow Books. It was released in September 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from William Morrow, via Edelweiss+.