Sorry for my absence recently, guys. It was a little unexpected. Life happened, and YALC happened, and my hands gave up on me, so reviews have been thin on the ground despite my usual levels of reading. But I’ve been back to requesting things on NetGalley, and here’s a review of one I picked up that comes out on August 10th. It’s copied fairly much verbatim from my Goodreads review, since that one was fairly detailed — as you know, I don’t always do this, but I hope you’ll forgive me this time.
I requested this book from NetGalley because the blurb made me sure of trans representation and hopeful of ace representation, too. On that front, I was right, and that’s a good thing, but the book itself was a slight letdown.
It was definitely nice to read something that had a canonically asexual character AND a canonically trans character, and which discussed and explored both of those identities and how they felt in relation to each other. However, the book as a whole didn’t particularly shine or engage with me personally, and I would say that these LGBT aspects were its main redeeming feature in my view.
Perhaps that was because I know quite a lot about trans and ace issues, so it seemed a little bit basic — it’s not subtle, and in places it’s outright didactic, as characters describe and explain terms to each other. However, maybe people who haven’t heard about asexuality would find it a good entry point for more research and discussion, and it’s always worth having simpler LGBT stories for those who need those first steps, rather than expecting people to already know things.
I wasn’t entirely keen on how it handled the issue of asexuality, but I think that might be because I haven’t discussed it with any amab ace people. It sounded a lot more like an issue of arousal than one of attraction, like a physical response rather than an emotional / mental one, which isn’t my own experience. But, to put it simply, I don’t have a dick, and it’s possible it’s different for those who do, with arousal playing a larger part.
As for the trans stuff… well, Andy faces a lot of transphobic bullying and a lot of misgendering which isn’t dealt with until the very end, and even the sympathetic characters find themselves thinking of him as a girl sometimes. While understandable, particularly in those less educated on the issue, this occasionally rubbed me up the wrong way, because the narrative didn’t call them out on it. It seemed out of place for Robbie to be so accepting of Andy’s identity and yet refer to him as having “a girl’s body” and wondering if kissing him made him straight, because that seemed to negate the gender stuff. Though for the most part it was an informed and sensitive approach, this book slipped up more than once, I think.
One non-LGBT thing that bothered me was how this seemed a bit old-fashioned for a book coming out in 2016. Robbie wonders if he’s gay so he goes to a shop and buys a magazine, despite serious embarrassment? Really? He asks a priest and his gym teacher and so on, but not Google? I mean, the book makes it pretty clear the internet exists, but none of the characters ever seem to use it. I’m pretty sure Robbie could have found AVEN without an unlikely-sounding biology lesson from a visiting representative had he just run a few cursory searches, and that combined with the ignorance of most of the characters about trans and other LGBT issues made me wonder if the book was supposed to be set in the recent past instead of the present.
But who knows. Looking back at this review, and thinking of the writing style and general quality of the book, I’m half convincing myself I didn’t like it after all, and that it should get two stars at best. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Like I said, we need more books about asexuality and so on, and only when they’re no longer uncommon can we start to assume that readers will already know the definition. This is “entry level” queer lit and I guess I’m looking for “advanced” queer lit because I’ve got the basics from personal experience, but that doesn’t mean there’s nobody out there who needs this book to exist. I also like that it has a happy ending, and that both the ace character and the trans character are able to have a fulfilling relationship that they enjoy. Happy endings for LGBTQ characters are still too rare.
Buuuuut on the whole, this didn’t do it for me, and it’s probably a 2.5 star read. Without the representation issues… well, frankly, I don’t think there’d be a book, because that was the point of this one, but if it wasn’t so rare to find ace characters I’d probably rate this lower — I’m rating it up just because I’m so desperate for more representation, you know?