British-Nigerian author Bolu Babalola has published her debut novel, which became an instant national bestseller and a TikTok book club pick. The novel is titled Honey & Spice and was published on July 5 by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing. Exploring the nuances of modern love in an Afro-Caribbean society within a British university, the novel features a fake relationship between two students that opens up the possibility of real love.
The main character Kikiola Banjo is a headstrong Black British woman who refuses to let any vulnerability or emotion get in the way of her professional and social lives. As an ambitious multimedia journalist at Whitewell College, Kiki hosts the radio show Brown Sugar to offer relationship advice to the female communities of Blackwell society. When she meets the handsome and charming Malakai, she immediately labels him “the Wasteman of Whitewell,” but the two are forced to pair up as partners on a class project. Being seen around campus with each other puts both their reputations on the line, and they decide to begin a pretend relationship in the hopes of maintaining their standings. Although they start off as rivals, the two soon become friends and eventually lovers as Kiki grapples with her blossoming feelings for a man who is the wrong type at first glance.
According to the publisher’s note, Babalola’s novel is intelligent and humorous, “full of delicious tension and romantic intrigue that will make you weak at the knees.” Using the genre of romance to explore the intricacies of modern dating, Babalola astutely depicts Black women and their sexuality to redefine the whiteness inherent within romance fiction and celebrate the love and passion of Black women. Honey & Spice has received so much acclaim that a sequel titled Sun Under Skin is already under way and will be published in 2024.
Although romance is often seen as frivolous and light, Babalola remarks in an interview that romance is a powerful genre with incredible potential:
Romance gives us a space to feel and explore that and also look into ourselves and examine our desires. At its best, romance can inspire joy and hope. Going away from my favorite rom-coms — whenever I finish watching Harry Met Sally or 10 Things I Hate About You — I always go away feeling really invigorated, and full of hope and lightness. The world is so full of darkness. Romance homes in on the joy that you can feel when you connect with somebody. It’s such a special thing to see something in somebody else that you’re drawn to and for somebody else to see you.
Calling herself a “romcomoisseur,” Babalola began her career as a writer for BBC Comedy and publications such as Cosmopolitan and Vice. She published her debut collection of short stories Love in Colour in 2020, which retells mythical love stories from around the world aiming to decolonize romance tropes by centering Black women in the narratives. Born in London to Nigerian parents, Babalola has accomplished a lot in her youth, making it to the Forbes 30 under 30 List in 2021 and serving as the global ambassador for the World Literacy Foundation.
If you enjoy modern rom-com novels with a strong female protagonist, like Akwaeke Emezi’s You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty and Amara Nicole Okolo’s Black Sparkle Romance, then we definitely recommend you add Honey & Spice to your reading list!