There’s a reason why the fake relationship has had such longevity in fiction. It is predictable to follow the trope in which two people pretend they are a couple, before actually falling in love. But just because a happy ending is guaranteed doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth telling—as the old adage goes, getting there is half the fun.
That’s the case in Bolu Babalola’s debut novel, Honey & SpiceThe book will be released July 5. It’s a dishy romp that gives a fresh update to the phony-relationship narrative with a charming and wholly contemporary romance between an ambitious college radio host and the campus playboy.
For Kikiola “Kiki” Banjo, a smart, self-possessed British Nigerian student at Whitewell College, there’s no time for trifling men. She’s focused on her studies and running her student radio show, Brown Sugar, where, between R&B ballads, she crusades against the “f-ckboy endemic” and doles out spicy but sage relationship advice to the women of Blackwell, the university’s African-Caribbean society. She’s got a clear vision of what her future looks like—and it doesn’t include any of the players or, as she calls them, “wastemen,” on campus.
But, for all her planning, Kiki did not anticipate handsome transfer student Malakai Korede, a talented filmmaker and notorious heartthrob with whom she shares a very public kiss before realizing who he is—and discovering that she’s already derided him on air as the ultimate wasteman of Whitewell. Kiki decides to begrudgingly partner up with Malakai for an academic project, at the request of her favourite professor. This will help both their careers and their reputations. They are forced to face the possibility that there is more to their love story when their flirtation becomes too slow.
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The subject of romantic love has proved rich territory for Babalola; this novel follows her first book, 2021’s Colors are for love, a collection of short stories that drew inspiration from myths and fairy tales from around the world and even her own parents’ relationship. Babalola began her career at BBC Comedy as a screenwriter. Later, she wrote and produced the show. Big Age, is a self-professed “romcomoisseur”—and it shows in her storytelling. Honey & Spice begins with a meet-cute in a dorm hallway and doesn’t skimp on steamy, swoon-worthy moments.
But that’s not to say that the novel deals in clichés. While the romance genre has long been critiqued for its lack of inclusivity when it comes to featuring books by and about people of color, Babalola’s writing refuses to acquiesce to the white gaze, firmly centering the details of the story in the experiences of Black and African students at a predominantly white institution. The author’s sharp sense of humor (which fans of her social media accounts will recognize), slick pop culture references, and keen sense of the zeitgeist ensure that though her story launches off from a tried-and-true trope, it ultimately offers a refreshing portrait of what modern love really looks and feels like.
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