Chloe Brown’s story begins as she’s almost hit by a car. A scary event no matter who you are, but for Chloe this fuels her determination to start living a more adventurous life. Having been dealing with fibromyalgia since she was young, she’s missed out on some of the experiences of her peers. So, she makes a list. The mythical list features things like riding a motorcycle, going camping, and travelling the world, and Chloe enlists her building’s mysterious superintendent to help her complete them. It’s a romance, so I don’t think I need to explain what happens next.
Chloe Brown may not have been the hero I wanted, but she was the hero I needed. I’m typically a fantasy reader; someone who loves an action scene and getting stuck into a ruthless world with a fast-moving plot. Basically, the opposite of a world or story I could survive in (it must be acknowledged that most people, disabled or non-disabled, would die in these fantasy stories, but I would be really dead). This is to say that a romance book isn’t my normal read (though I’m a sucker for romance plots in general), and definitely not one that features a character with a chronic illness similar in some ways to mine.
When I started Chloe Brown, I was skeptical; I didn’t want to read about a person with a chronic illness. I already have a chronic illness and it sucks a lot of the time! I use my reading time to escape that part of my life. But I really, really underestimated this book. It provided the escapism from real life I wanted (because when is falling in love this cute IRL?), but it also so accurately showed what being disabled is like: Chloe has aids littered around her flat to help when she needs them, she has an inconsistent schedule that can change at short notice because of her flare-ups, and she talks like someone who is actually disabled (like correcting Red when he says that eight hours of sleep is what’s recommended – I’m with Chloe, it’s definitely 10). Some of that may seem like the bare minimum, but it is so rare for authors to write about chronic illness and disability well.
Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons why disability is so well represented is because of Talia Hibbert. She herself has fibromyalgia and is autistic (and, though it’s not stated in the book, Hibbert has said in an interview that Chloe’s also autistic). Hibbert’s writing on disability shows how important it is that there are disabled authors in publishing. #OwnVoices stories are vital, and we need more that concern chronic illness and disability. And it wasn’t just me who thought it was great disability rep – here are some comments taken from our book club’s Slack channel:
I’ve literally had no one yet articulate the chronically ill x neurodivergent experience in any mainstream book I’ve read. 6 chapters in and I am crying and just making little hearts in my margins and underlining lots. – Sophie Buck
This is the first book I’m reading with a character with chronic illness so it has been amazing to read all the casual references to her symptoms, painkillers etc! – Zoe
[Hibbert] references spoons a few times in the book and then a couple references in I realized [she] talks about spoons without ever defining what spoons are for ableds and I cried thinking about how fucking good that felt to know she wrote this book for the community. – Ari
Chloe’s illness does surface a lot in the book – because that’s what illness is for so many people: something that influences most, if not all, aspects of your life – but it’s not the main thing that comes to mind when I think of this book. Mostly, I think about Chloe and Red’s romance and banter, and all the times I laughed while reading. It’s a really beautiful story about two people falling in love, where both people respect the other and genuinely try to understand and help them.
And that’s why I needed Chloe Brown and her story. Chloe has to deal with her illness every day, it doesn’t get cured, and she doesn’t ‘overcome’ it. She has a life that she’s happy with (though it must be acknowledged that Chloe is from a very well-off family, meaning she doesn’t have the barrier of money that many disabled people have to living well). When Chloe expresses to Red that he doesn’t have to cook for her, Red says:
“You think this is a big deal because, no offense, you’ve had a lot of people in your life who claimed to care about you but didn’t act like it. That’s not me. I can cook, and right now, you can’t. So I’m doing it for you because that’s how people should behave; they should fill in each other’s gaps. Don’t think about it too hard.”
Hearing someone say that to Chloe so clearly and confidently made me cry. Throughout the book, Chloe expresses fear of being rejected by friends and partners for her disability, but Red says things like this and tells her she’s not a burden, that she shouldn’t accept people treating her like shit, and it almost seemed like Hibbert was talking directly to me and addressing my own fears. My life may be different to some non-disabled lives, but I am not a burden to those who love me. I’m no less worthy of love and respect, and I can still live a life I’m happy with. So, read this book, I implore you! I cannot imagine a world in which you wouldn’t like it.
If you liked this and want more disability-centred book chats in your life, join us over on our Slack community where you can find the Sick Lit book club.
Missed out? Grab a copy of Get a Life, Chloe Brown*.
Next up: Disability Visibility*, edited by Alice Wong.
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