A student falls for a guy who seems too good to be true in Babalola’s witty and charming debut novel
From the author of the bestselling short story collection Love in Colour comes this funny and charming debut novel, a university romcom geared towards young adult readers who like a touch of snark with their love stories. The plot of Honey & Spice is simple: Kiki is a self-controlled, ambitious and intelligent heroine who prides herself on being able to see through charming seducers, play them at their own game and emerge emotionally unscathed. One day, however, she meets a new student called Malakai. Handsome, clever, secure and nice, he must be too good to be true. Or is he exactly what he seems – and just what she needs?
The book unfolds with the ease of a Netflix algorithm-generated miniseries. The usual romcom impediments arrive in the form of gossip, scheming, deception, bad timing and misunderstandings. But Bolu Babalola also teases out the traces of vulnerability and wariness beneath Kiki’s bravado, the mistrust and fear that underscore the female characters’ interactions with the young men in their lives. As Kiki confesses to Malakai: “You’re the only guy who’s ever held my hand without the intention of getting something from me. You just hold my hand to hold it. To hold me. Like you like doing it or something.”
Kiki makes for an entertaining narrator and the novel’s countless witty lines come mainly from her inner monologue. As the book opens, she is fleeing after a one-night stand with a fellow student who fancies himself as the campus Casanova but whose “50-thread count sheet scratched against my calves”. He embraces her cheesily in front of a mirror: “It only took a few seconds for his eyes to flit from me, from us, to his own reflection. His bottom lip had tucked in. It was honestly like a very uncomfortable threesome where two people were way more into each other than they were you.”
Immediately after this, Kiki meets Malakai and the real engine of the novel starts up. The story often drifts into a heavily Americanised snap’n’sass sitcom register, which sits oddly with its UK redbrick university setting, while the general descriptions, reported actions and exchanges between characters can be strained and clunky. However, the central couple have a beguiling sweetness and Babalola skilfully imbues their scenes with a tender innocence that is romantic.
Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola is published by Headline (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply


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