If You Want Me
by Kayla Perrin, contemporary (2001)
Harper, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81378-5

Oh please. Kayla Perrin's If You Want Me is a veritable potpourri of all the African American contemporary romance - no, make it universal contemporary romance - wait, make it women's fiction clichés one can fill in 380 pages. The rather bland writing style only adds to the sleeping pill effect of this book.

This is also one of those stories where a fat lil' girl grows up to be a beauteous movie star only to snag that fellow that she likes all the time. Meet Alice Watson. As a tubby child, she has this big crush on Marcus Quinn, the school jock. Don't we all, dear. Marcus, as a plus, is her best friend, her soul mate, her confidante, yadda yadda yadda. But like all silly young men, Marcus has his eyes set on Tanisha Barrett. Tanisha is - yup, you guessed it, a veritable shrew/slut/bimbo/witch/bitch/*insert your own feminine slur here*.

Tanisha plays the role of Marcus' first wife that will jade him to all beautiful women in the world. So when Alice comes home to Chicago from LA to make up with her mom - oh, she's also a *insert feminine slur reserved for overbearing mothers* of a momma - and spars with her *also insert another feminine slur* sister, who is Envious of Alice.

Alice, despite being a glamorous movie star known as Desiree LaCroix, still harbors all these insecurities. Understandable... if you're a fat child grown up to be a middle-class nobody of a shopgirl in downtown K*Mart. Alice/Desiree is a fab glam star... hello, Earth? Anyway, while in town, she is stopped by a cop who turns out to be Marcus.

Alice is a doormat. A pretty, perfect, beautiful woman who has no faults that isn't related to sabotaging her own self-esteem. Mom sits on her, sis passes gas on her, Marcus treats her hot ("I want you! I kiss you!) or cold ("Women! Bah, they can't be trusted!"), and Alice takes it all as if she's playing her trademark Lil' Match Girl role. Bring on the nails and tar and venom, Alice will sit in the corner and endure it like all Brave Womyn of Romance Novels would.

I have been accused often of giving weak - sorry, "non-masculine/tomboy" (I'm quoting a reader) heroines no slack. Fine, there's room for all sorts of heroines in romance, weak or strong, codependent martyrs or Dana Scullys. But that doesn't mean If You Want Me lights my tizzies. Clichéd and uninspiring, this story is best filed under Spiceless Ugly Duckling Fantasies - the ugly duckling here grows into a graceful swan alright, but like they say, beauty ain't everything - it's character that counts too.

Here, Alice baby, go wash my car.

Rating: 51

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