The Sibling Code: Love a Little Sideways and In the Clear

Book In the ClearI have read several contemporary romances in a row with the conflict resting in part on the idea that it's not acceptable to date the sibling of one's best friend. If, for example, the heroine's got it bad for her brother's BFF, said BFF is off limits to her, and more importantly, said sister is waaaay off limits to the BFF.

On one hand, I understand that conflicts in contemporary romance are tricky because, really, there's not a lot of emotional or physical boundaries to keep people from hooking up if they really want to. But for me, this particular conflict does not work if all the reasoning behind it is, “because reasons.” I'm going to compare and contrast two books wherein this conflict worked for me and did not work for me, and explain why those books were or were not successful for me as a reader. Part of the requirement, I think, to accepting what I call the “bff/sibling/no no” conflict is that the reader must agree that this is a viable boundary between two people, and for me, I don't think it is unless there's consequences. Real consequences for the hero and heroine, that is, not just “someone will be mad at you for awhile.”

First, I think this conflict works MUCH better when the hero and heroine are younger – early 20s or even teens in a YA novel. It assumes a protective pseudo-paternal attitude on the part of the sibling — who is usually if not always male. Are there any where the sibling is also a girl and must defend her younger sister from her male friend's advances? The pseudo-paternal attitude can either work well (for example, Locke in Dee Tenorio's Rancho del Cielo series) or be really goddam distracting or even inappropriate. If all the reasons behind “You can't hook up with your BFF's sibling” amount to “Because it's a rule,” I as a reader do not buy it.

I particularly do not buy it if the hero and heroine are in their upper 20s or even 30s. Once all the characters are adults, it's harder to prove to me as a reader that this is a viable reason for two people to refrain from hooking up. And if the majority of the support for this boundary comes from every other character saying, “Dude, he'll kick your ass if you go out with his sister because IT'S A RULE” I really really don't buy it because everyone insisting something is true doesn't mean it is. There is no conflict by fiat, not if I don't agree as well. If the argument hasn't been made for why dating a sibling is not ok, or if the argument does not include real and actual consequences that are discussed and possibly felt by the protagonists, everyone insisting this is a code of behavior is not going to convince me.

Book Love a Little Sideways Of the stories I've read recently that rest partly on this conflict (and I think so far I'm up to four or five now, which is a weird coincidence), I'm looking at two: Love a Little Sideways by Shannon Stacey, and In the Clear by Tamara Morgan. Factual things to be aware of: Love A Little Sideways is a novel of 70,000+ words, and In the Clear is a novella of 37,000 words. That said, the sibling/bff/no no conflict probably lasted for about the same amount of words in each book, give or take a chapter, so the length isn't the issue here. It's the supporting consequences to the “sibling/bff/no no” rule that matter. (I don't think I spoil anything major up in here, so  read on if you haven't read either of these two books.)

I'm going to start with the one that did work for me, because oh, sweet holy gosh golly, did it ever work. I read In the Clear after Love a Little Sideways purely by accident, and the contrast between the effective establishment of the bff/sibling/no no conflict and the ineffective conflict was helpful because it not only enabled me to articulate what left me unsatisfied, but gave me examples of what totally did work, like OMG did it work, you guys. Emo tingles ahoy.

The hero of In the Clear, Fletcher Sinclair, is a tall, quiet, awkward shy dude with a secret. A few secrets, really, but two big ones. One, he works at night and odd hours as a volunteer on a Search and Rescue team, and two, he's deeply in love with his best friend's sister, Lexie. Lexie has no idea that Fletcher feels that way about her, but she loves both him and her brother deeply, even though she feels left out sometimes. Fletcher, Lexie, and her brother Sean have been friends for a long time. Lexie and Sean's family have been Fletcher's family since they were kids, as Fletcher's family life was pretty crappy.

It's a challenge to take one protagonist from not loving the other to loving them deeply within the word count of a novella, and I think the story mostly pulled it off. Lexie doesn't pine for Fletcher in the beginning, so there's a jump over the chasm of disbelief in here, and I nearly cleared the leap. I could believe that as Lexie came to understand more about Fletcher, she also recognized her feelings for him. Her flightiness and “zany” personality worked against her, though, because I wasn't sure she really understood her own motivations fully, at the beginning or the end of the story. Lexie is one of those people to whom disasters and upsets just happen all the time, and being around her can be exhausting. Fletcher finds her intoxicating, but refuses to act on his feelings.

What worked for me was the reasoning behind Fletcher's refusal to act on his feelings. The story features both Lexie's and Fletcher's points of view, and I understand why there was hesitation and negative consequences for both Fletcher and Sean if Fletcher let his feelings become public. Fletcher is painfully aware of himself, and of his emotions. He loves Lexie deeply. He also loves his adopted family, his acceptance with Lexie and Sean, and he knows what he would lose if the didn't have them anymore. He would be painfully alone, and he knows it. Fletcher's point of view highlights the depth of the loss he'd experience if he tried to have a relationship with Lexie and failed, and so I understood why he kept his feelings a secret and refused to act on them.

Not a very good secret, though – Sean knows how Fletcher feels, and that was a huge portion of why this conflict worked for me. Sean knew, and understood Fletchers feelings and fears, and tried to protect him somewhat, warning Lexie that “she knows how he feels about her,” (and of course Lexie has no idea what Sean's talking about). Lexie isn't forbidden to Fletcher because of Sean or because Sean threatens some consequence against Fletcher. Lexie is forbidden because Fletcher has decided she is because for him, the risk of failure is too great, and because he didn't think Lexie felt the same way about him, or ever would.

I had huge emo-tingles reading this story, especially for the hero, who is lonely and shy (I have a definite thang for shy heroes). Fletcher understands the value of his friendships and his adopted family so deeply that he's willing to endure the pain of suppressing his true emotions. Lexie is forbidden to him because he'd risk losing her altogether, and Sean, and their family, and he is unwilling to risk his only true family. Oh, have mercy, emo tingles everywhere.

[Also, and this has nothing to do with my argument about bff/sibling/no no, this novella is also really funny. There's a predatory lasagna, and some really funny scenes that mix well with the tingly emotional scenes. I didn't always like the heroine, not because she didn't see Fletcher's feelings (dude is goooood at keeping secrets, yo) but because she was often flighty and selfish and takes some actions that I found intrusive and uncool, but at the same time, even though she's a little bit of manic pixie, her accident-prone, disaster-not-proof self is a good antidote to Fletcher's rigid fear and self control. The way in which she soothes and diminishes his fears is really touching. Even if I didn't always like Lexie, I definitely knew that Fletcher adored her, and I wanted him to be happy with her.]

The bff/sibling/no no conflict in In the Clear was paired with deep emotional self-knowledge on the part of the hero, and that knowledge compounded his fear of changing the status quo in his friendship with Lexie and Sean. Fletcher stands to lose his adopted family, the one that accepts him as he is, if he takes the risk of changing his relationship with Lexie, and because of what that loss would mean to Fletcher, I was on board with the idea that his bff's sibling was a big ol' no-no. For Fletcher, though, it was a self-administered boundary, not because of Sean but because of his own feelings.

As I said, I read In the Clear after reading Love a Little Sideways, which is one of the Kowalski series books by Shannon Stacey. In this story, Liz, the faraway Kowalski sister, has moved home after breaking up with her deadbeat boyfriend, and is trying to avoid re-enacting a passionate secret moment with Drew, her brother Mitch's best friend.

The problem for me was, Liz was off-limits to Drew because…everyone said so. I think there might have been six or seven different conversations wherein some third party underscored the fact that It's a Code that You can't Date your Best Friend's Sister, and that if he did, Drew's ass would be summarily Kicked by Mitch. Just because everyone SAYS it's a conflict doesn't mean that it IS. For me, there was no real emotional consequence of their hooking up, except “there's a code” and “Mitch won't like it.”

Mitch, despite being the hero of a previous book I really liked, needed to butt the hell out of their relationship. His involvement and his attitude (and the attempted asskicking that ensues) diminished him as a character and made him look completely ridiculous in my eyes. For one thing, Liz hasn't lived in Whitford for years and years. For another, SHE'S AN ADULT! She's old enough to make her own decisions, and moreover, she had a boyfriend that none of the Kowalskis, including Mitch, thought was good enough for her – but there was no asskicking then. So it's ok for Liz to date anyone but Mitch's best friend because then there's a code and everyone in town knows about it. She can date a complete asshole who takes advantage of her, and no asskicking will ensue, but should Liz date Drew, who is by all accounts a very decent and lovely human being, then there's a problem because There's A Code.

Part of the tension rested on Liz and Drew keeping their hookup and their simmering feelings a secret, which was difficult because they're in plain view of everyone, and Whitford, like any small town in a contemporary romance, is incurably nosy. EVERYONE has an opinion on Liz and Drew and their possible “relationship,” and why it shouldn't be.

They were all adults. He was almost certain Mitch would be reasonable if Drew and Liz wanted to be in a relationship, not that they were there yet, if ever. Their two interactions in the past year had been a forbidden quickie and his response to her accident. Whether he was attracted to her or not, that was hardly a relationship. But, hell, maybe Mitch would even be happy for them if they were.

But that little bit of doubt kept him from spilling his guts. He and Mitch had been friends a long time. Mitch had been his best man when he married Mallory and the shoulder he cried on the night she moved out.

If Mitch felt betrayed – if Drew saw that in his eyes – it would cut him to the bone.

“I told Paige you'd never do that.” [Mitch said] You're my best friend and she's my little sister. I told her you'd cut your own balls off before you'd ever lay a hand on her.”

So much for reasonable. If Mitch would rather Drew castrate himself than touch Liz, it was probably best he keep his mouth shut.


WHAT THE HELL.

Why is Mitch the powerful arbiter of what is and is not ok for his sister? She lived on the other side of the country for years, but now he's in charge? SHE'S REALLY, I SWEAR THIS IS TRUE, AN ADULT. The conflict wasn't so much that Drew was ashamed of his relationship with Liz (he wasn't), but more that he was told by everyone else (who in my opinion are very wrong and incorrect and that's not their goddam job) that he should be, and that caused him some deep emotional confusion.

I mean, really, everyone has their turn reinforcing the conflict. Like there was a sign up sheet and they all took turns.

“Hey you're both single,” Kate said in a voice that dripped suggestions. But then she laughed. “I guess not. He's Mitch's best friend, so that's out.”

Was there a rule book passed out but only some people got a copy? No matter how much everyone else insisted, I wasn't buying it.

The more realistic tension was that Drew really wanted to find someone to have a family with, especially now that his divorce from his first wife, Mallory, is far enough into the past that he can potentially see himself moving on. Mallory had never wanted to have children, and had kept that a secret from Drew from the beginning, so when she finally fessed up, it broke their marriage. Drew doesn't have good feelings about keeping large secrets within his relationship to say the least, and he struggled with keeping his feelings for Liz and his desire for her a secret from everyone.

Plus, Liz had just moved home (which, while I'm mentioning it, is not remarked upon in her point of view at all. There's no culture shock, no mention of how New Mexico is different from Maine, nothing about the change in her life, nothing) after a bad breakup, and while she knows she's moved to Whitford for good, she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She's renting a home temporarily, her furniture is inflatable, and her life is half on hold and half is starting over. She's in a place of enormous change, and she isn't sure she wants a permanent anything, including a permanent relationship with children and everything else. Drew, on the other hand, knows he wants permanent, with Liz, and some children, etc, etc, and happily ever after. That conflict was much more nuanced and multi-dimensional (and ultimately not as well resolved either) than the idea that Drew had to keep his desire and emotional attraction for Liz a secret from Mitch because Mitch was somehow a third party authority in their relationship. 

While I enjoyed the family scenes, and love visiting with all the Kowalskis, this book left me frustrated and disappointed in the way it handled the conflict – a conflict that was so similar to In the Clear, and yet worked so poorly for me. Mitch was WAY too involved in their relationship, either as a person who figuratively stood between them or actually stood between them (or chased Drew around to administer an asskicking I didn't think he was entitled to even think about). If the real problem with the bff/sibling relationship was the possibility that Drew would lose Mitch as his friend, I didn't see that discussed or explored with any serious consequence. Any of the consequences I could think of (which weren't nearly explained enough in the story so I had to think about this for awhile) would have been solved by everyone being a goddam grown up for 5 whole minutes. But then, if everyone was an actual adult about this, the conflict wouldn't exist in the first place because all of them, especially Liz and Drew, were old enough and in every other aspect adult enough that the disapproval of a brother who isn't in town a lot anyway shouldn't matter so much.

Ultimately, the reason the bff/sibling/no no conflict didn't work for me in Love a Little Sideways was because everyone else was deciding what was important and vital to everyone else's relationship EXCEPT for the two people actually IN the relationship. Mitch wants Drew to cut his own balls off than touch Liz. Drew thinks it would be “criminal” for him to come between Liz and Mitch. Liz thinks they're all being ridiculous but when she's told that the menfolk need to work this out, she accepts that and goes to eat baked goods or something. The paternal overtones from Mitch were, in my opinion, more creepy and misplaced than brotherly and appropriate, and Drew and Liz's reaction to his attitude didn't help – and neither did everyone else insisting that Mitch's feelings were a viable reason for them to not be together. Drew and Liz speculate on the consequences of their relationship not working out, but their pants are already a four-alarm fire for one another, so any ruminations or actions that might have revealed actual consequences I could identify with as a reader were never explained. I didn't understood the negative consequences for Drew and Liz's relationship initially outside of “Mitch wouldn't like it,” and as far as I was concerned, none of it was Mitch's goddam business.

Conversely, with In the Clear, I understood and had terrible empathy for Fletcher and his feelings, and appreciated what he stood to lose if he attempted to change his relationship with Lexie, and revealed to her how he felt.

Plus, In the Clear's bff/sibling/no no conflict focused on the possibility of change that hadn't happened yet. In Love a Little Sideways the change had already happened – Liz and Drew had already hooked up in a previous book – and they were dealing with the aftermath now that Liz was home full time. Because Sideways had to work so hard to prove that keeping their hookup a secret was necessary, and that their continuing where they left off would be such a bad thing, I never bought it as a reason for them not to be together, and in the end thought less of all of them for being so concerned with what Mitch would think.

BIG SIGH.

Setting up a forbidden attraction requires an explanation of the consequences of that attraction to underscore why it's forbidden in the first place, and how the change in making the forbidden thing a reality would be difficult or painful (or both), but in the end, worth the trouble. It's a common motif in contemporary, but even though I really like it (and geez, add snowbound and shy heroes and I'm all in) I am pretty critical of how the forbidden is proven to be forbidden.

What about you? Do you buy the “bff/sibling/no no” conflict? Do you like it? When does it work for you, and when does it not?


Love a Little Sideways is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

In the Clear is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Categorized:

Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Vicki says:

    Nice review. Like you, I can buy (kind of) not dating a sib’s best friend if you are a teen. Otherwise, not. My oldest brother dated several of my good friends. I had no angst about it and, when it did not work out, we were still friends, though I would have to be rude to my brother on occasion. I also dated friends of my brothers. My youngest brother was big in IT and the nerds he worked with and hung with loved me, for some reason. And I them. No big. So, for a “don’t date my sib” to work for me, they either have to be young or there has to be a real reason.

  2. 2
    kkw says:

    I have an older brother, and at no point in time has anyone thought he gets a vote in my love life. This so-called conflict is a perfect example of why I prefer historicals, because there could be actual reasons preventing a couple from being together, rather than this manufactured horseshit.
    I’m still planning on reading the Kowalski book, but I’m so saddened she winds up back in Maine. Not that I would enjoy New Mexico as an alternative myself, but if we’ve learned anything in the past books, it’s that Liz needs to stay away from her invasive, controlling, and infantalizing family, even if Maine weren’t one of the most depressing places to live. I love the Kowalski books, I do, but there are Problems, and I don’t know whether I am less convinced that a) small town life is bearable b) it’s healthy and delightful to never move out of your childhood home c) having your family inappropriately enmeshed in your life is heartwarming.

  3. 3
    Tam B. says:

    I completely agree with what you’ve stated. Whilst I enjoy series with family ties however they’re presented, no brother has the right to dictate your love life. Perhaps threaten “you make her unhappy and I’ll…” But that should be it.

    Just have to say when you first stated “emo tingles” I was wondering how “emo” got tingles and what it had to do with the subject. Then the penny dropped. Obviously I’ve been reading too many YA’s lately.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    HA! Sorry about that. “emo tingles” are when I’m reading a book with enough emotion that I start feeling them, usually with tingles up and down my arms. It’s a rare thing but a signal that I’m all emotionally connected to the character.

    Now that I think about it, Emo Tingles sounds like a good name for a goth doll with a lot of outfits.

  5. 5
    Shanna says:

    It’s also problematic for me that Mitch some how “owns” Liz’s sexuality because he’s her brother. As if it’s his property do do with as he likes. The implication that Drew needs to have permission from the oldest male relative to have a relationship with their female relative feels very creepy to me.

  6. 6
    willaful says:

    I could not agree more. This trope drives me bugfuck. A bummer too, because Drew’s backstory is so interesting and I wanted to read his book.

  7. 7

    Yeah, I tend to have a BIG problem with this trope outside of YA. I don’t have any older brothers, and my dad and younger brother tend to have opinions about whomever my sister and I bring home, but they are OPINIONS. No shotguns, no “rules”, and the unspoken acknowledgment that we are adults.

    I’ve enjoyed some of the Kowalski books as well, but as another commenter said, there are definite issues. I was actually relieved when someone LEFT their hometown because it made sense for those characters and because, yeah, HEALTHY! I know part of it is my own prejudices – I grew up in a small town and wasn’t a big fan of it, so sometimes the romanticizing of small-town life gets to me – but yeah. Being that involved in your family members’ love lives? Ick.

  8. 8

    This happens sometimes in Lauren Dane’s books as well, but sometimes it seems more justified. Like in the Brown Family series, Brody is very protective of Erin and Adrian, but a) he raised them from a young age, so he’s more of a father at times, b) Erin went through some serious shit, and c) I don’t ever remember him dictating whom they could and couldn’t date.

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    @Unprofessional Critic: Yes – that’s a similar set up to Locke in Dee Tenorio’s series. Locke is the oldest, he’s raised his siblings from a young age, and he’s protective of them. And, if I remember in “The Virgin’s Revenge,” Locke’s protectiveness of his youngest sister is an issue, but for all intents/purposes/plot devices, he IS the father figure. That made sense to me as well.

    With the Drew/Liz/Mitch set up, oooooh, crapmonkeys. I love this series so very much, and I love the family dynamic of people who do love and watch out for one another and care about each other’s happiness (and, with the Maine series, try to make amends when they’ve all screwed up in some way that hurts one of the siblings). I think there was so much conflict already between Liz and Drew from her moving home and from his wanting to find someone to be with permanently but still residing in Whitford. The insistence of everyone else that the reason they can’t hook up was Mitch wasn’t nearly as powerful for me as the exploration of Liz’s place in her life vs. Drew’s place in his (plus I liked the switch of having the female being the person who isn’t sure about permanence and the male being the one who’s all ready for family and commitment). The role Mitch had to play in that part of the book seemed unnatural and, like others have said, a little squicky.

    That said, will I buy the next one. OH HELL YES because it’s Hayley the librarian and I am ALL UP IN THAT PREORDER LIKE WHOA DAMN. (Pre-order info: AMZ  | BN  | iTunes)

  10. 10
    Lindlee says:

    I think this trope can work if it is established that the older sibling is protective of the younger. I’m the oldest of four. For my sister who is only two years younger than me, I probably wouldn’t care if she dated a friend of mine (beyond the instinctive “He’s MY friend; get your own!” Awwww, sibling rivalry). For my brother who is four years younger, I’d feel a little weird (okay a lot weird) but unless I had a legitimate reason to object, I’d keep my mouth shut and see how it plays out. Now for my youngest brother who’s nine years younger, I’d have problems with it. I know nine years isn’t that big of a gap, but he’s my baby brother! Honestly I babied both my brothers. It doesn’t matter that they’re both bigger and stronger than me. I’m protective of them and I’ll make sure nobody hurts them. (Not that I’m not protective of my sister but we’re definitely more equals.)

    So if the older sibling is protective, I think it can work as long as it’s not taken too far. I can understand if the sibling has reservations and needs to be talked around. But being completely against it and resorting to physical violence is taking it too far unless they have some other reason to be against the relationship.

    Also, it always seems to be an older brother and a younger sister. I’d love to see an older sister be protective of a younger brother.

  11. 11
    Emily says:

    It worked for me in “Hell on Wheels” because the conflict came from the hero and heroine working through their grief over the death of BFF (to hero) and older bro (to heroine)

  12. 12
    Dread Pirate Rachel says:

    Meh, I married my brother’s best friend. It was never an issue. My brother was actually the one who introduced us, and he was our biggest supporter. He knew how great Andy is, and he was delighted at the prospect of having him as part of the family.

    The “rule” I’ve heard stated is, “Never date your friends’ sisters or your sisters’ friends.” I think that’s ridiculous. The only reason I can think of to discourage one of my siblings from dating one of my friends would be if the friend was an asshole. Since I don’t have any friends who are assholes, I wouldn’t have a problem with any dating that happened.

    Also, my siblings are adults who can take care of themselves and make their own decisions, romantic and otherwise, thankyouverymuch.

  13. 13
    Lee-ann says:

    The thing is, in real life, dating your best friend’s sibling is very very common.  So I never understand this ‘conflict’ either.

  14. 14
    chacha1 says:

    I agree with kkw – when I read a romance, it’s more likely to be a historical than a contemporary.  And maybe the much-more-extensive list of believable conflicts is part of the reason.

    In a contemporary romance, the conflicts tend to be so VERY artificial and “why don’t you two idiots just talk to each other for a minute” … it’s nice to hear about titles, like “In the Clear,” where a writer has put a little more nuance into it.

  15. 15
    LoriK says:

    I think the rule can sometimes work. Relationships are messy and even for adults shifting boundaries and loyalties can be tricky. I don’t think it’s weird or crazy for people to hesitate to alter long-standing, close relationships that are very important to them for something that may not last.

    One of the things that sometimes bugs me in romance novels is that the characters act as if they’ve read the back cover blurb. More than once I’ve found myself thinking, “The only reason this thing you’re doing is remotely OK is that we all know you’re going to live happily ever after and there’s no possibility of a horrible, permanent break-up in your future.” The characters aren’t supposed to know that. They’re supposed to make their decisions based on the assumption that the whole thing could crash and burn in a major way* because that’s how real life works. In some cases that possibility makes dating your BFF’s sibling or your sibling’s BFF an honestly high risk proposition.

    That said, the idea that a brother has veto power over who his adult sister dates is not OK.

    *Because it was mentioned earlier and because it still totally irritates me when I think about it I’ll mention Never Enough, the 4th book in Lauren Dane’s Brown sibling series, as an example.

  16. 16
    Lozza says:

    I find this setup much more compelling in a contemporary if it’s essentially a “reformed rake” story; i.e. if there is a reason the heroine’s family/friends would want her to stay away from the hero regardless of his relationship to the heroine’s older brother. If the older brother and his BFF have a history of carousing and womanizing together, and the older brother has reason to think the BFF isn’t a good bet for any woman, then I buy him not wanting his sister to get with the BFF. Which- and I haven’t read the Liz Kowalski book, so I’m basing this on having read several reviews- sounds like it doesn’t at all apply since by all accounts Drew is an upstanding, reliable, considerate guy and Mitch would likely think any other woman was lucky to have Drew in her life.

    I didn’t even think of “In the Clear” as falling into this trope since I thought you could have taken Sean out of the story entirely and still have had essentially the same story (like, Lexie could have been a neighbor whose family had more or less adopted Fletcher, and the conflict could still have been about Fletcher’s fear of change and rejection).

  17. 17
    astrakhan says:

    One example where this trope works really well is in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”. We’ve had five books to set up that Ginny is in love with Harry, and throughout the book, the only person who holds the “I can’t date her, she’s Ron’s sister” opinion… is Harry himself. It’s never anything enforced by anyone else; when they get together at the end, Ron’s perfectly okay with it.

  18. 18
    Sarah says:

    I really don’t care for this particular trope (which is why, as much as I’ve enjoyed the Kowalski books, I gave the most recent one a pass). I simply can’t comprehend this as a conflict, which may be related to the fact that I have no siblings, but I simply cannot fathom why a sibling would have a problem with his best friend dating his sister. I mean, sure it may be a bit awkward if there’s a breakup or whatever, but if someone is worthy of being your best friend, wouldn’t they be worthy of dating your sibling? And then there’s all the ickiness involved in having the family be involved in your love life and the grossness of the gender stuff because it’s never, ever the sister who has a problem with the brother dating *her* best friend.

    Basically, I despise this trope and it’s a non-starter for me on a number of levels.

  19. 19
    cleo says:

    My slightly younger brother did date one of my friends in high school (and several other of my HS friends had secret crushes on him) – I felt a little hurt and left out, because she was MY friend first, but not enough to oppose the relationship or for either of them to be afraid to date because of me.  (Now, I did get a huge (requited) crush on her several years later, after we both came out as bi in college, and part of the reason I never acted on it was that it was a bit weird, because, you know, she dated my brother first.  We would be have been a train wreck together, but if I thought she was my one true love, I would have gone for it, no matter who she dated in HS.)

    I have In The Clear in my TBR pile – I may have to move it up, it sounds good.

  20. 20
    Amanda W says:

    This may have been one of the books with this trope you read recently, but I think Just One of the Guys, by Kristan Higgins handles it nicely. It’s similar to how you described In the Clear, in that the hero puts up the self-imposed barrier because he’s scared of losing his “family” if the relationship were to go bad. Of course, he’s a little overly thick-headed and obtuse about it, but I don’t remember any older sibling threatening going on.

  21. 21
    Emily A. says:

    First of all I missed this yesterday. I couldn’t get on the site.

    Second of all I have a lot of opinions on sibling conflict.

    Third to start with the culture shock. I can believe someone who’s lived in both places and is familiar with both cultures would not be shocked.
    That being said, I’m from the Northeast, and anybody who would voluntarily move from Maine to New Mexico a) should hate cold weather and b) bitch non-stop about being back in the cold weather.

  22. 22
    Emily A says:

    ahhh I don’t why it posted twice; sorry about that.

    Ok so my feelings on sibling conflict is it doesn’t work for me. It goes back to the days when women were considered property. The brother is a stand in for the father figure and he gets to control his sister’s love life.  The underlying theme is male family members should control the female member’s love life. (And no! This is 21st century!)

    It really doesn’t work for me in YA unless there’s a big age difference. (Like brother and friend are 23 and sister is 17) If brother is 18 and the sister is 17 then it doesn’t work for me.
    It can work in historicals, where women are legally property and the expectations were different.

    I haven’t read this one, (and I might not) but I have read some of the other Kowalski books. While I enjoyed Mitch’s book when I was reading it, it ultimately left a bad taste for Mitch. He was such a horrible person with screwed impressions of women. I felt he felt women were horrible people, because they often looked for commitment and marriage, and they weren’t pure in just wanting to experience the relationship. Paige on the other hand impressed him, because she didn’t want marriage and that seemed to make her pure in his eyes.  I left that book thinking Mitch was an a-hole.

    Drew on the hand, is a nice guy. He has been married for years, and he found out his wife lied to him about something important. But the implication that Drew would screw Liz is false, because Drew is a good person. (if anything poor Drew seems more likely to get his heartbroken. If they’re best friends don’t you him anything??

    To me it also doesn’t work because Mitch is a creep and Drew is a nice guy.
    Why is that more often than not the brother is a creep and the best friend is a nice guy? (I had this problem with Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven.) If you are going to do the interfering brother, at least have the not-so-nice best friend and the nice guy brother. Often the best friend would be better warning the brother’s girlfriend away from him. Like poor Paige.

    In generals adults which is legally anybody over the age 18 and certainly over the age 21 should get to make their own decisions about their love lives.

  23. 23
    Lindsay says:

    Oh my goodness, “Don’t date my sibling” is one of my most hated tropes, and is often enough for me to ignore a book completely—despite having it seen done really well a few times.

    I absolutely loved In The Clear and for a lot of the reasons you mentioned—plus snowbound and shy hero are my catnip as well!

    I recall one of Bella Andre’s Sullivan novels (looks like it’s I Only Have Eyes For You) having “Don’t date my sibling” going on, but in that case if I recall correctly it’s similar to Fletcher’s case—guy grew up as a member of the family and has no one else, desperately doesn’t want to lose them, feels he’s not good enough for the heroine, etc. The heroine is also pretty unsure because she’s not the type of girl the hero has dated in the past and is insecure about him being interested in her for long-term, but is willing to pursue the chance at happiness, so it really worked for me.

    Like I said, it’s really not a trope I go for, and when I was on a Sullivan glom I almost stopped in the first chapter because I just didn’t want to read that trope and get annoyed at the brothers policing their sister’s relationships and sexuality. However, by then I’d read the three books prior that HAD contained some of my favourite tropes and had really loved them, so I was willing to give it a chance, and I really did enjoy it. Not one of my favourites of the series but I’m glad I read it.

  24. 24
    Maite says:

    I so hate shortcut writing.
    You know, that thing when instead of using a trope within the framework of the story, the trope is mentioned by name and that’s all there is to it.
    In “Love a Little Sideways” (which I haven’t read, I’m going by the review), for example, there were many variants to the issue: it could have been that Mitch feels bad that he couldn’t protect his sister from the asshole, so he would overreact to any guy near her. It could have been that it’s a problem for Drew, because Mitch told him when they were teens that his sister(s?) was(were?) off-limits, and Drew promised. It could be a problem for Liz, because the nosy town used to pair her with her brother’s bff, and Mitch always reacted violently, so she thinks there’s something Drew did to a girl that Mitch knows about.
    But just giving them the Conflict ball labeled: “BFF’s sister is forbidden” and having everyone hammer it in for the sake of it?
    As someone who dated her brother’s best friend (I was 18, he was 21), here’s what really happens:
    1) People who don’t have any idea what they are talking about (having neither met my brother or his bff) telling that the bff is in the wrong because it’s rules?
    Big fat check.
    Every male friend (and a couple females) was like “He betrayed your brother!”. When I asked them, they explained that it was “Man Code” and that was it. It just wasn’t done. His male friends had the same opinion.
    (Now that it’s stated in The Bro Code, maybe they will realize how ridiculous it is).
    2) The brother going all surly and angry and never directly saying anything, but acting as if he should have been asked permission?
    Big fat check. Never considered not dating due to it, but I had a guilt complex over breaking their relationship for a long time. Longer than the relationship actually lasted.
    Five years later, my brother admits that he was already angry at said bff, and used our dating as an excuse for his anger. I practically choked him.
    3) Awkwardness when things don’t work out?
    Not really. Maybe it’s because we both realized early on that we didn’t like each other that way, but that we did care for each other as friends very much, but the break up went like this:
    He: “Need to talk.”
    Me: “Okay”
    He: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
    Me: (Relieved) “No, it’s me too”
    He: “Friends?”
    Me: “Always.” Hug.
    And then we went off to McDonalds and had a very nice evening out. My brother went with us.
    We’re still best friends.

    Sorry for the mammooth post, but I didn’t know I had this much anger over everyone judging a guy I’m honored to call my friend without even knowing him.

  25. 25
    Phyllis says:

    As I said on twitter the other day… uh, wait… I don’t remember exactly. But basically, it was “doesn’t work for me” and “they’re old enough to choose for themselves,” but that I’d keep reading. I still haven’t finished Sideways (Nook ran out of charge, so I had to read a paperback) and am sorry to hear that Mitch does get all ass-kicky about it.

    I didn’t date in high school, but the little, tentative dates I did have to various dances were generally with my older brother’s friends, who were also in my group of friends. They always immediately got into a relationship with someone else within a couple of weeks of dating me. The bad part was that my brother dated my friends. I guess the only one that was sort of serious was a summer romance with someone who wasn’t a close friend, so it didn’t get too awkward.

    I hadn’t thought about it too much, but the culture shock of going home is huge and should have been bigger and a potential conflict. “What the hell am I doing back here? Was I crazy? Who ARE these people???”

  26. 26
    Pe says:

    I try to avoid this kind of books.
    I am so used to this It is not done rule that when i read a book where the conflict isnt there i get confused.I am like why the brother not saying anything ..

  27. 27
    JenM says:

    This is one of my least favorite tropes, to the point where I usually avoid books with it. I love the Kowalskis, but I’m glad I chose not to get the latest book. I always end up wanting to throw books with this trope against the wall because the idea that you can’t date your sibling’s best friend just seems so stupid to me. In real life, this is one of the best ways to meet a potential partner. After all, assuming you trust your sib, they’ve already vetted the person so you start out with a certain level of trust already established.

    On the other hand, in spite of my general resistance, I bought In The Clear anyway (shy, awkward hero? yes, yes, yes!) due to a review at DA and I absolutely loved it. Fletcher’s longing was so palpable and his fear of messing everything up was so strong. Thanks for articulating my feelings about this trope in particular and why it can sometimes work.

  28. 28
    Phyllis says:

    I figure almost no one is reading these comments anymore, but wanted to add that I have now finished the book and liked it more than I thought I would when I was halfway through.

    I think the pacing was off. They were dealing with all those issues that are mentioned in Sarah’s review, but the first 2/3rds of the book are overwhelmingly about the “We can’t because: brother.” If Shannon Stacey had woven the other issues into it a lot more instead of every now and then saying “She doesn’t want babies RIGHT NOW,” I think it would have worked better.

    Also, if they had resolved the brother problem earlier on and had really realized the other issues were as much or more important and really grappled with those, I would have appreciated it more.

    I’m terrible and figuring out pacing in my own books, but am full of advice for everyne else ;)

  29. 29
    SB Sarah says:

    @Phyllis: I think you’re right about the pacing. The “because:brother” problem took up too much time and space in the story for me, too.  But I’m glad you liked it more than you thought you would.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top