Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey is the first book in a new contemporary romance series about the inhabitants of Port Jefferson, Long Island. It has cute small town vibes, renovation elements, and a fake relationship. While Bailey’s writing and the fake relationship trope were what drew me to this book, my enjoyment was greatly offset by a trope that is my anti-catnip: the off limits best friend’s sister.
Baseball player Travis Ford has returned home to Port Jefferson to hide out and essentially wallow in self-pity after experiencing a career ending injury, but his best friend’s little sister Georgie Castle refuses to let him be a sad sack. Their reunion consists of Georgie storming into his gross apartment and flinging expired lo mein at his bare ass. It’s a great start.
Georgie is the youngest of three siblings and though she’s now twenty-three, she feels like she’s still the “little kid.” No one takes her seriously as an entrepreneur who owns her birthday clown business. In fact, no one takes her seriously as a woman at all, especially not the man of her dreams, Travis Ford.
Travis and Georgie grow closer as Georgie helps pull Travis’ head out of his ass, making him realize that his injury doesn’t mean the end of the world. When his agent approaches him with a commentating position, Travis finally gets the nudge he needs, but rehabbing his image is part of the deal. While he was playing baseball, Travis was known for being quite the womanizer and becoming a commentator means adopting a more family-friendly image.
Georgie figures that by fake dating, it’ll help them both out. He’ll come across as a “changed man,” settling down with a nice girl from his hometown. Meanwhile, Georgie thinks that by publicly dating Travis, people will see her more as an adult and less of “that gangly young Castle girl who always wears hand-me-downs.” When Georgie was born, she said her family was “solid,” but that they lacked the energy to dedicate the same amount of time to her as to her older siblings.
The fact that Georgie thinks her “worth” to other people will increase by dating the town celebrity, despite her family being well-known for their construction business, is a bummer on its own, though that wasn’t my main difficulty with the book. I felt incredibly bad for Georgie. She suffers terribly with feelings of inadequacy and never received the same attention as her two older siblings. She often felt she had to be a “pest” to get attention from her parents and siblings, and now she worries that her family truly sees her that way.
She made me sad. I wanted her to be more vocal, to take up space, and make her presence known when people overlooked her, and she does start to get there. But when juxtaposed with how much she does for the people around her–Travis in particular–Georgie doesn’t quite learn to stand up for herself.
Though there is a fake relationship, I will warn you that it doesn’t take shape until halfway through the book. Most of the conflict stems from Travis being best friends with Stephen Castle and Georgie being Stephen’s little sister. The way both Travis and Stephen see Georgie, as this infantilized, perpetual young teen is, well…gross. Georgie is a twenty-three year old young woman who owns her own house and business, but Travis is scared to even ask Stephen for Georgie’s phone number despite having a good reason for doing so. He agreed to help fix up Georgie’s fireplace! I think it would be perfectly all right to get someone’s number from their brother for that.
Georgie’s identity to the townspeople of Port Jefferson is firmly rooted in her relationship to her brother and seems to be stagnant in time, as if everyone’s image of her is stuck at when she was fourteen. It’s something that’s repeated ad nauseam to a concerning degree. Travis even vocalizes it twice during their first intimate scene (emphasis mine):
That smart-ass comment earned her a rough punch of his hips. “Look where it got us. You had to keep reminding me how nicely you grew up. Now we’re halfway to fucking.”
“I’m too hot to give a sweet fuck that you’re my friend’s little sister right now. And that should bother you.”
Even in their post-sex glow, Travis comments about how he isn’t sure how he’ll be able to look Stephen in the eye the next day. Look, if someone kept mentioning my brother to me during sex, things would stop real fucking quick because he is literally the last person I want to think about in that situation. Georgie is more than just someone’s sister but rather than seeing her as an individual, Travis sees her as an extension of his friend. In a general sense, men commenting on how a woman has filled out or the physical changes our bodies go through from teen to adulthood has always bothered me. There’s a lecherousness to the phrase that makes it feel like a vocal leer. In this specific instance, it’s doubly revolting because Travis insists on seeing Georgie as if she’s part of her brother.
Admittedly, I knew going into Fix Her Up that this trope isn’t for me. If the two main characters are consenting adults, it shouldn’t be any siblings’ business whether or not they’re bumping uglies. It’s a conflict that always felt overly manufactured to me. But as a huge fan of Bailey’s writing, I was optimistic that if anyone could get me into this trope, she could. She has some great romances out there and can write amazingly hot sex scenes. I suppose I was hoping that this would be my exception to the rule for the “off limits” trope.
It’s probably time I realize romances where adult siblings aren’t allowed to date their brother/sister’s friends aren’t for me and stop trying to put a square peg into a round hole. And if this is your catnip, I hope you really like this one, if you’re interested!
Lastly, I don’t want to say this romance wasn’t believable in its HEA, but I did have concerns about the longevity of Georgie and Travis’ relationship. Travis is older by several years and they’re at different places in their lives . Travis is trying to rebuild after essentially losing his dream job. Georgie is just starting her independence. I was worried that by becoming romantically involved with Travis, he would stifle that growth.
Yes, they have great chemistry and awesome sex. However, they had rather polarizing opinions on very important things. For example, Georgie wants a big family and a house full of kids. Travis, having grown up in a broken home, has huge reservations about being father. A “together forever” ending is not something that’d work without some couples counseling, because I don’t think either should make that big of a compromise for the other. Kids are no joke and it’s a decision–whether to have them or not–that takes serious consideration from all parties involved. Neither Georgie nor Travis had a moment or a series of conversations where I felt like they were truly on the same page regarding this issue.
Even though this trope clearly doesn’t work for me, I hope the things I’ve mentioned can help you make a fair assessment on whether it’s right for you. I’m still a Tessa Bailey fan, though I’m uncertain if I’ll continue with this series. It really is a cute and fun setting, but the next book in the series is a second chance romance and those aren’t my favorite either. If this trope is your catnip, though, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how well it was executed.
And just as a general life rule, there needs to be a moratorium on mentioning family members once clothes start coming off.