I had kind of a weird reading experience with Big Girl Panties; I enjoyed the book overall, but I didn’t like the hero. I stopped short of actually hating him, but if I met him in real life I’d probably want to punch him for good measure. I'd definately give him the stink eye.
The book left me feeling conflicted—it was an enjoyable reading experience, emotional, often funny, but my distaste for the hero left me unsatisfied.
Big Girl Panties opens with Holly Brennan and Logan Montgomery meeting on an airplane. Both had booked first class seats and both were bumped to coach. Logan flies first class because he’s a rich and sought-after personal trainer to professional athletes. Holly is flying first class because she’s significantly overweight and has trouble fitting into coach seats.
Holly is mortified to realize she has to sit next to drop-dead gorgeous man. Logan, for his part, has some fairly unkind thoughts about sitting next to Holly:
“At least she doesn’t need the seat belt extension, Logan mused. He was a little afraid to inhale, recalling a fat woman he sat next to some years ago who smelled of hard-boiled eggs and cheese” (Evanovich 7).
And that pretty much sets the tone for Logan for the rest of the book. He starts out as a dickbag, and I wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t still a dickbag at the end. His mental evaluation of Holly, of fat people in general, made my lip curl. Right from this point he had a lot of ground to make up in order for me to like him.
Anyway, as they make polite conversation, Logan learns that 1. Holly actually smells good, like lavender and 2. she’s fun to talk to. When he finds out that Holly started turning to food for comfort while her husband was dying of cancer, Logan feels guilty. He offers Holly personal training sessions at a reduced price.
Holly is drowning in a cycle of grief and depression. Her husband died a year ago and her life is more or less in stasis. She hasn’t removed his things from their home. She doesn’t socialize, preferring to stay in and watch TV. She binges on junk food to make herself feel better. Holly is unhappy with her weight; although she’s never been slim, she realizes that she’s now out of control. She decides to try the personal training sessions, and takes the first step toward living her life again.
Holly approaches her workouts with humor:
“Each time he weighed her, which was once a week, Holly thought up a new way to maim [Logan]—and kept it to herself. Her favorite fantasies usually ended with Logan being shoved down the stairs at the entrance to the building. The very same stairs she climbed to get to him.” (Evanovich 44).
She surprises Logan with her dedication and focus, doing what he instructs without whining or complaint. Logan normally associated with bitchy, high maintenance women (models who are stereotyped in my opinion), and he finds Holly to be genuine, funny and easy going.
One night Holly is struggling and on the verge of a binge. She calls Logan for moral support. While at her house he realizes she never cleaned out her husband’s possessions; the rented hospital bed still sits in an empty room. Holly explains how difficult sorting through her husband’s things is, and Logan stays the night to help her sort. He disassembles the hospital bed, removing it so she doesn’t have to.
This was why I couldn’t totally write Logan off as an asshole. I got misty reading this scene, partially because I know personally how painful it is to sort through the possessions of a loved one who has died. I know what an act of kindness it is for someone to help with that task, and I had a very personal reading of the text. My reading may have redeemed Logan more than he deserved, but it was enough to keep me from giving up on him. Logan and Holly build an intimacy here, combing through the artifacts of her grief, boxing up her old life. When they get to the end Logan marvels at her quiet strength:
“You work so hard. You’re willing to try anything. I’ve never once had to deal with you having a bad hair day or breaking a nail. To find out what you’ve had to endure, well, I feel like it’s an honor to call you my friend.” (Evanovich 72).
As their relationship progresses, Holly keeps losing weight and becomes more comfortable in her own skin. Logan finds himself more and more attracted to her fuller figure—which is great—except that it seems to bother him that he wants her. He’s constantly reminding himself that she’s not his type (not a supermodel) and that he shouldn’t be attracted to her.
The dam of sexual tension eventually bursts. Holly believes she’s some sort of pity fuck for Logan, which made me profoundly sad to read. She enjoys their tryst, but never really opens up to him emotionally because she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Logan just sort of goes into an emotional tailspin. He knows he should be happy for Holly when she starts getting out more, making friends, even finding a job, but he’s also irrationally jealous. He likes having her to himself, keeping them together in a bubble. Logan’s social group consists of professional athletes and fitness models. It’s not a place he feels comfortable taking Holly. I think he was supposed to be protective of her, and of what they had, but with his constant musing regarding her weight and how she wasn’t his type, I felt like he was ashamed of her. No matter how hard she works, Holly will never be a small woman.
At one point he thinks, “How can I help her get the last of that weight off? Or, Maybe just a little bit of liposuction is in order. He knew medically she was an endomorph, that no amount of exercise and dietary changes, short of starvation, would have her reaching a single-digit size. He preferred going to her house instead of bringing her to his to avoid any drop-bys that could lead to confrontations. He rationalized that the reason he never took her out was because she preferred a quiet existence, devoid of the hectic pace of the high-profile nightlife. He also knew he wasn’t being completely truthful.” (Evanovich 170).
So yeah, still a dickbag.
Things come to a head when there’s a confrontation with a bitchy model ex-girlfriend (true to romance cliché she even has long nails) and Holly realizes how unfair Logan has been to her.
Despite Logan’s dickbaginess, I still liked the book. I think a huge part of it for me was how much I liked Holly. She’s been dealt a shitty hand, and she deals with it. She pulls up her big girl panties. She’s very funny, witty, a joy to read. I could have read a book about Holly’s weight loss journey, her path to a new life, without a romance plot at all.
Holly’s transformation isn’t about her physical appearance; it’s about her physical and emotional health. When she does reach a weight she’s comfortable with, she is supportive and kind to other women who are similarly overweight and looking to get healthy. She serves as an inspiration. Logan never really deserved her, I think. I want my romance hero to love the heroine unconditionally, to adore her even with her imperfections. I wanted Sheridan from Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Everyone notices their partner’s physical imperfections. Logan also hesitates to bring Holly fully into his life because doing so is an admission of how much he loves her. He’s afraid of his own emotions. Previously he’s dated women who were more or less interchangeable, blonde carbon copies. Showing off Holly, such a deviation from his dating history, is admitting to everyone that he cares deeply about her. By the end of the book I realized it was Logan was really dysfunctional and insecure, not Holly.
In the end I looked at Holly and Logan’s HEA with a skeptical eye. I never thought he deserved her love, but I was willing to live with it. The humor in Big Girl Panties, and Holly’s awesome personal transformation, saved it for me.