“The True Love Experiment” is the latest romance novel from author duo and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who write under the pen name Christina Lauren. The novel follows Felicity “Fizzy” Chen, a romance novelist who is propositioned by Connor Prince, a documentary filmmaker and single father, to star on a new reality dating show he’s producing called “The True Love Experiment.” Although she’s supposed to be finding her own happily ever after on the show as the world watches, Fizzy can’t help but fall for the man behind the scenes.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Hobbs and Billings shared that they hadn’t planned to write Fizzy’s book: In their 2021 romance novel “The Soulmate Equation,” Fizzy was just the sassy best friend sidekick who dated around a lot and happened to be a romance author.
Having written over 20 romances, Hobbs and Billings were the perfect pair to discuss what it means to be a romance author. Billings said their experiences and conversations around the romance genre were reflected in Fizzy. With “The True Love Experiment,” there was more space to accurately represent romance authors in a way that isn’t usually afforded to them.
“There are outside attitudes of romance that romance authors are sex-crazed or always thinking about that stuff. We really wanted Fizzy to feel real, and I think one of the ways that we could do that was infusing our values and our responsibilities onto her. (Fizzy) thinks the romance genre is a positive source of joy, and it is not fantasies about sex so much as it is a fantasy of significance,” Billings said.
Significance plays a major part in Fizzy and Connor’s love story. Despite being a 37-year-old romance novelist who knows what love is and writes about it for a living, Fizzy has never experienced true, head-over-heels love herself.
Reading about Fizzy’s experiences as the lead of a reality dating show is highly amusing. We meet a bunch of different guys trying to win over Fizzy’s heart, but the audience ultimately decides who she ends up with and who they feel she is most compatible with — a twist on your typical “Bachelor”-style show. Although Billings said she watches some competition reality shows, Hobbs admitted that they made her anxious, so the two realized they had to do a bit of research for creating “The True Love Experiment.” They watched shows like “Love Is Blind,” “Perfect Match” and “Love Island,” so much so that Billings said she got hooked on them.
Because Fizzy is a romance novelist, the stigma around the genre of romance comes up frequently in the book. Even Connor — our swoon-worthy and British love interest — is a little apprehensive about Fizzy’s work at first. Romance novels are works written predominantly by women, for women, and there’s also a common misconception that romance novels are solely about sex — which is wildly untrue. The author duo said that the stigma around romance novels is changing; it’s evident in the way bookstores highlight these books and media outlets report on these books now.
“There’s not that sort of shame that some people feel. We always hear people say, ‘They’re my guilty pleasure.’ And we’re like, ‘There’s no guilty pleasures!’ Read what you like, read what you love,” Hobbs said.
Just scroll on #BookTok — some of the most popular and trending books are romances. Billings said that #BookTok is a place for people, especially women, to be themselves and be wholly obsessed with something.
The coauthors tackled parenthood in the aforementioned “The Soulmate Equation” in the form of Jess, Fizzy’s best friend who is a single mother. For Jess, her daughter Juno is her whole world and every one of her decisions revolves around her. Similarly, in “The True Love Experiment,” Connor is the father of a young girl named Stevie who he co-parents with his ex-wife Natalia. In the chapters with his point of view, his love for Stevie shines through and it’s obvious he wants to spend more time with her.
Hobbs and Billings never included children characters or parent protagonists in their previous books, but, as parents themselves, it was a fun thing to explore in “The Soulmate Equation” and “The True Love Experiment.” It felt natural to them to present parents having to deal with a lot of the things that their readers also deal with.
Despite including a reality dating show, the novel is firmly grounded in reality. Between its authentic and lovable characters and its entertaining but endearing plot, it was a fully enjoyable read. “The True Love Experiment” is everything you could ever want in a romance book: witty banter, top-notch pop culture references and sex-positivity. You’ll definitely want to have it on your shelf.
Christina Lauren will be in Ann Arbor to discuss “The True Love Experiment” on May 24.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Seaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org