Book: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella (2019)
Age/Genre: Contemporary Romance
Content Notes: Violence, Robbery, Cheating, Obsessive Behavior, Dysfunctional Family
When I read the blurb for I Owe You One, I was immediately excited to start reading the book. Set in England, the story follows a girl everyone calls Fixie – because she has a compulsion to fix things. When a stranger asks her to watch his laptop in a coffee shop while he takes a call, she is happy to help. And when she ends up saving the stranger’s laptop from disaster, he insists on giving her an IOU for a favor. According to the blurb, a hilarious bout of favor-trading and love-falling ensues.
You see, Fixie has a crush on a family friend – a rich boy her brother went to school with – who has just returned from America and finds himself in need of a job. Fixie uses her favor to get him a job and the two start a “relationship.” I put “relationship” in quotes because it’s entirely one-sided; Fixie does the work and the family friend reaps the rewards.
But that’s how most of the relationships in Fixie’s life have been. Her parents owned and operated a small, all-purpose family shop called Farr’s until her father died and her mother took over. Farr’s sells everything from hair dryers to olive oil to board games. Fixie works at Farr’s every day; she knows the store and the community extremely well and she is passionate about fulfilling the needs of their customers. Fixie’s siblings have much less interest in the daily running of the store.
Jake, the eldest sibling, is an investor while Nicole, the middle child, is a recently married housewife who is obsessed with her personal mental health and yoga. The two of them occasionally help out at the store, but the day-to-day running is left to Fixie and her mother. When Fixie’s aunt (who lives in Spain) takes Mrs. Farr for a vacation, Fixie and her siblings are left in charge of the store. Chaos, in the form of changes made “for the better of the store,” ensue and Fixie is left to…well, fix the mess.
Honestly, that barely scratches the surface of all of the nuances in this plot, but I don’t want to spoil anything, so we’ll stop there.
As I read this book, I was really surprised to feel familiar with the writing style and characterization. I hadn’t paid much attention to the author’s name when I purchased the book, but I kept recalling Confessions of a Shopaholic, which was given to me as a gift in high school, so often that I finally looked up the author’s name. Sophie Kinsella wrote the Confessions of a Shopaholic series, as well. If I’m being perfectly honest, I disliked Confessions primarily because the main character had one defining character trait: an obsession with shopping. The rest of her characterization (and, if I remember correctly, many of the other characters in the book) revolved around shopping and whether they liked it/had good fashion sense/etc.
The characters in I Owe You One are also fairly one-dimensional. The difference is that all of the characters have different obsessions in I Owe You One. Fixie is obsessed with fixing things, her mother is obsessed with keeping the store exactly how her husband had it, Jake is obsessed with “rising above his status,” Nicole is obsessed with Nicole, and so on.
There was one small issue I had with Fixie’s characterization, however. Fixie and her family regularly refer back to how she got her nickname. At the age of three, she used to walk around the house carrying various tools and saying, “Gotta fix it.” Throughout the book, Fixie sees things that are “wrong” and immediately starts to obsess over how to fix those perceived problems. If she can’t fix the problem, she spirals into thinking of all the ways it could go horribly wrong and stops working on more productive projects. Instead, she fixates until the problem is resolved to her satisfaction, often to the point of disrupting her life. Yet, not one single teacher thought, “This child could use a psychologist.” Really?
Kinsella introduced some important ideas about the ramifications of being defined by one specific character trait. Jake, for example, is so driven in his need for everything to look a certain way that he struggles with asking for help. Nicole is so unused to hearing complaints about her person that she refuses to talk with her estranged husband for fear of hearing she is less than perfect. But Fixie continuously struggles to fix things for other people and, while she certainly grows and learns to focus on her own needs occasionally, she never accepts that sometimes you have to let things go.
The story is told in first person from Fixie’s perspective, so a lot of the characterization is skewed by Fixie’s experiences. She is the youngest, and therefore feels as though she cannot live up to the standards set by her “too-perfect” siblings. Yet, any time her siblings talk about changes they want to make to Farr’s, it is clear that Fixie thinks they don’t have any business sense. It’s not uncommon for people to be lenient in their overall view of a person, until they get down to the details. I really appreciated that Kinsella was comfortable enough to give her main character such a confused view of reality.
As for the love story, which I didn’t touch on much at all in the plot synopsis, I thought the concept was cute. It was executed with a lot more twists than I was prepared for, and about two-thirds of the way through I almost gave up on the book entirely, but I very much enjoyed the end result. Both of the love interests are painfully aware of their own flaws and have a sense of right and wrong that matches well. The characters practice a lot of give-and-take in their relationship, which seems to highlight the wrongness of the other relationships in Fixie’s life (for example the friend-crush). It was fun to read a love story based on mutual interests, between people who actually like each other, as opposed to some of the romance novels I’ve read recently that tout wild sexual attraction but no other reasons for the characters to fall in love.
If you are the kind of person who likes to fix other people’s problems, take a break and check out Fixie’s story.