I was going to post this one on Monday, but then I decided I didn’t want to post one of my less positive reviews on my birthday because that seems like a bad way to start being 22, so I saved it for now. Yay?
I enjoyed the premise of this book — that’s why I requested it from NetGalley, after all, and I was relatively hopeful about it. It features a tailor and her customer, a woman who works primarily as a male model and wants a suit for her sister’s wedding. Although it was promising, the execution was something of a disappointment, and as a result, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I’d hoped.
My issues were mainly stylistic. In particular, I felt there was too much exposition, and it wasn’t particularly skilfully done. In the early chapters, this mostly took the form of “As you know, Bob…” style dialogue, where characters gave each other an unrealistic amount of information about things they probably already knew all about. Describing each others’ backstory through dialogue made it feel stilted and unrealistic, and this didn’t entirely go away, either, as it happened later in the book too.
There was also just too much information. When Grace was designing Dakota’s suit, there were a lot of details about the different cuts she could have used, as though the author wanted to show off the research she’d done into tailoring — and it really wasn’t necessary. Just describing the cut she actually chose would have been enough. Then, later, there were a couple of paragraphs that literally just described what paintball is, even though I doubt there are many people who wouldn’t already know that. So that felt like it could have been trimmed.
Beyond those stylistic things, which mostly affected the dialogue but sometimes seeped into the narration (as in the case of paintball and tailoring details), my other issues were with how gender was treated. Although the book purports to be about a genderfluid character (Dakota) and in some ways is… I don’t know, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I’m not genderfluid (I identify as agender), so I might be wrong, but it just felt strange to me that Dakota found so much validation in being identified and treated as a woman, when that seemed at odds with how she presented the rest of the time.
In addition, despite several affirming statements about trans characters and gender =/= genitals, there were a few lines of dialogue that were at odds with that. A gay male character told a female character (as a compliment on her appearance) that if she had a penis, he’d sleep with her — a statement that seemed to suggest his sexuality was entirely about genitals, which felt kind of trans-exclusionary, and odd in a book that otherwise attempted to be very inclusive. There were a few other references to characters’ gender being about what was in their pants, too, which just sat oddly with me.
Finally, I didn’t find the romance particularly compelling, but I think that was mostly about me. It was very much the kind of romance that’s based on sexual tension and physical attraction, which as an asexual person I just find confusing and unrelatable, and thus it’s never all that convincing for me. Though I don’t think that’s why I found the sex scenes kind of… meh. I’ve definitely read more enjoyable ones. And I wasn’t really sure how a relationship that seemed to be based so much on physicality developed into something so emotional — but hey, I literally do not comprehend romance at all, so that might be on me.
Those issues aside, I did enjoy how many LGBTQ characters were in the book. I liked that Grace and Dakota each had communities of other queer people whom they valued and spent time with, and weren’t isolated. I liked that it referenced various real events that impacted queer communities (such as the Pulse shooting) and that it seemed to be about a community as a whole, rather than a couple of isolated characters surrounded by straight people.
I did occasionally get confused because a lot of the names were traditionally masculine but seemed to refer to female-presenting characters, which threw me off a couple of times, but overall the diversity was enjoyable. I especially liked that there were a handful of trans people and there was discussion of pronouns — despite my other misgivings about the trans rep.
I also liked that Grace’s family was black and religious, but that this didn’t stop them being supportive and accepting of her sexuality. It was nice to see a character for whom religion was a part of their life without being a source of conflict because of their sexuality, and in fact, to see a church-going character who was just sort of … normal. (In books, religion seems to appear at extremes, not as a regular part of ordinary people’s lives.)
All in all, while the premise was still enjoyable and the book wasn’t without its good points, I was ultimately disappointed with it. Perhaps if the writing had felt crisper and more polished, without the clumsy-feeling exposition, I would have overlooked the other issues I had with it, but the combination stopped me from enjoying the book as much as I’d hoped.