Happy Black History Month, everyone! I’m so excited to have just read a strong slate of contemporary novels featuring Black protagonists and casts living their best lives, whether it’s via superheroics, sleuthing or, in this latest case, shop-keeping while falling in love.
Real Men Knit follows Jesse Strong, the youngest of four very different adoptive brothers. Mama Joy, the mother whose last name they all took for their own, has just passed away and now the boys are having to figure out what to do with her yarn store, a Harlem fixture that is also, unfortunately, bleeding money. Damian, the eldest and a straitlaced CPA, thinks selling makes the most sense but Jesse, the seemingly aimless Lothario, surprises everyone by volunteering to give running it a try. Ofc, he doesn’t actually know much about running a business. Fortunately, Kerry Fuller is on hand to help.
Kerry’s mom has always had a habit of throwing herself into bad relationships, so Kerry spent a lot of time at Strong Knits growing up, eventually transitioning into the helpful, almost invisible part-time employee that the Strong bros had the habit of overlooking. So when she steps up to back Jesse’s play, they’re all surprised, especially since Kerry has recently gotten her somewhat deferred degree and is looking into getting a full-time position teaching. But she’s just as determined as Jesse to keep Mama Joy’s dream alive. Plus, she’s had an unrequited crush on Jesse since she was a teenager… not that that has anything to do with her decision, or so she tells herself.
As Kerry and Jesse work on reopening the shop and figuring out how to pay all their bills, they slowly become closer. Ironically, this causes them to want to keep their distance from one another, for fear of hurting and of being hurt. But true love, as the stories go, can never be denied.
In many ways, I feel that while this book wants to be a romance, it really reads more as contemporary fiction, as more of the meat of the book is in the struggle to keep Strong Knits open and worrying about the future than in what happens between Kerry and Jesse. The romance is sweet but also cuts away from the really sexy parts between our romantic leads, which was a disappointment to me. For a book unafraid to present sexuality frankly, it felt overly coy in not actually describing what goes on in the bedroom. The ending also felt rushed, which took away from the lovely speech Jesse makes at the end.
For all that it didn’t read like the (admittedly torrid) romances I’m used to, the strongest part of the book was definitely in the personal growth of both Kerry and Jesse as well as of their relationship, which all came across as realistic and relatable. Jesse is not the kind of guy I would ever date — the self-hating playboy is wildly unattractive to me — but his personality is conveyed in a wholly convincing way. I liked him but I didn’t like him, y’know? I also appreciated how Kerry knew what she wanted and worked to get it. The only thing I didn’t like about the two was the unnecessary jealousy, mostly from Jesse’s end. I felt that they had enough conflicts between their own relative positions and with the business to have to add another wholly self-imposed element to the mix.
Most of all, it was great to see knitting championed as being for everyone regardless of sex, race or age, and to read so much representation of daily life in Harlem. This was a great way to kick off Black History Month on the site, even if it wasn’t quite what I look for when reading romance novels. Do I think Kerry and Jesse will eventually get tired of each other and move on? In the real world, most definitely.
I do hope this is the start of a series tho! The Strong brothers are very diverse, not only in racial make-up but personality-wise as well, and it would be really cool to see how each handles falling in (hopefully forever-)love, even if I don’t necessarily believe in the longevity of Jesse and Kerry. But who knows, maybe future books will show him maturing out of his self-pity, as he’s seemingly poised to do. I’ll only know if I get to read more!
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson was published May 19th, 2020 and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.