I can’t believe it took me over a week to read this book. (Especially when you consider that it took me half that time to read a book published in 1818, compared to this book published 200 years later.) This was my selection for Challenge #10 “A romance novel by or about a person of color.” And I think the big take-away here is that I really don’t like the romance genre. Last year’s challenge to read an LGBTQ+ romance worked out great for me, because the book wasn’t actually about the romance: it was about who’s trying to use magic to force Lucien Vaudrey to kill himself, why, can Stephen Day stop them in time, and when are the two of them finally going to start having the hot sex the back of the book promised? (*cough*) But this one…is really mostly just about interpersonal relationships, and that wasn’t enough to hold my interest for very long at a stretch.
So, there are two reasons I picked this particular book to read. One, the lead is a biromantic asexual, which is totally awesome. Two, that cover: that is a fantastic cover, though it turns out to be a misleading one. Misleading for two reasons, one big and one small. The small reason is that our lead, Alice, has long hair that she keeps in braids, so the hair is all wrong in that picture. (Like I said, very small reason.) The big reason is that it’s tonally misleading: that cover image promises a heroine who never lets anything bring her down, and always greets her life with an “I’m on top of everything” smile on her face. That is not what Alice is like for the majority of this book. She spends most of the book in a deep emotional funk for one reason or another. If I’d known that was coming, I might have picked another book. (Then again, I might not have: it’s rare enough to come across an asexual lead in a book at all, let alone in a romance.)
But let’s talk about the story for a bit. We start out as Alice is being dumped by her roommate/girlfriend, Margot, who just can’t stand the fact that Alice only has sex with her to make Margot happy, and clearly isn’t getting anything out of it. Margot doesn’t understand — and doesn’t even want to — what it’s like being asexual, and does (of course) suggest that Alice should see a doctor about it. That scene actually made me think of a movie trailer I saw recently (I think it was called Love, Simon, or something like that), for a movie about a high school boy who’s contemplating coming out (I guess?): the trailer overall was mostly very generic and nothing I hadn’t seen before, but there was one really good bit where the boy wonders why only gay people have to “come out,” and then there’s a fantasy sequence of kids coming out to their parents as straight. But the thing is, that wasn’t right: it’s not just homosexuals who have to come out, it’s everyone who isn’t cis heterosexual, including asexuals. (Though it’s less necessary for asexuals, particularly aromantic ones. Most people aren’t going to know the difference between aro-ace and just-plain-out-of-luck-in-love, not when it’s in someone they don’t know super-closely. I’ve known my (sort of) boss at work for longer than I’ve understood my own sexuality, but she had no idea about it until she and my other hetero co-worker were discussing the plans for the other hetero co-worker’s upcoming wedding, and asked me what I’d like my wedding to be like. I mean, she was a little awkward in phrasing it (I am over 40 and unmarried, after all), but she was still really surprised when I explained that a wedding was an impossibility for me because I was aromantic and asexual. (And yes, btw, I do only have two heterosexual co-workers. Admittedly, I only have four total co-workers, but still.))
Um, sorry, got side-tracked there. Anyway, so Alice spends a few chapters moping about Margot so heartlessly leaving her, and then, just as Romeo forgets his Rosaline after he meets Juliet, Alice practically forgets Margot ever existed after she lays eyes on her non-decoy love interest, Takumi. (It’s not a perfect comparison. Among other reasons, because this is not a tragedy and no one kills themselves, but also because Margot is still brought up a few times after Takumi is introduced.) Takumi is described as having a divinely perfect appearance, but without much in the way of details (so I tried to imagine a twenty-something Gackt, because that sounds pretty damned divine to me) and as soon as she sees him, Alice starts acting like the stereotypical love-struck teenager. Which, of course, she is. She’s aware that she’s acting like a cliche, and doesn’t like it, but doesn’t manage to stop acting that way. Maybe that’s how it really is when you fall for someone? Having never experienced it, I couldn’t say.
Looking at Takumi from the objective point of view of the reader, I can’t really see anyone falling for him like that, even if he did look like Gackt. At first, he’s a non-entity apart from being unspeakably pretty. Then he goes through a phase of acting almost like a stalker, at which point I conceived a perfectly natural dislike of him. Then he spontaneously gets over stalking Alice, becomes her new best friend, and starts presenting himself to the reader with a smile and a “Hi, aren’t I perfect?” I’m not saying I continued to dislike him after he stopped acting like a creeper, but…I never really started to like him, either. But I liked Alice all along, so I did want things to work out for her, so…I guess that’s all right?
Huge swathes of the book are Alice trying to work out her feelings. She mopes about them, tries to avoid Takumi, then tries to spend every waking moment with him, talks about him to her best friends, nearly lets her obsession with him ruin her relationship with said friends, and even starts going to therapy in order to talk about her feelings for him. All this was exactly what I most disliked about the book, because I just kept wanting to shout “who even cares?!” So, as I said at the beginning, I think I’m not cut out to read a standard romance novel. People who want to read about romantic feelings probably aren’t bothered by any of this. The subplot about her parents cutting her off because she doesn’t want to be a lawyer like everyone else in her family felt like too little, too late to capture my attention.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I didn’t hate the book. There were a lot of little moments I loved, and I highlighted them (since I’m reading the Kindle edition) so I could quote them in my report. There were enough of them that now that feels silly, but since I did that with Persuasion and then neglected to use any of them (though I fully intend to go back and add them into the report eventually), I believe I’ll compromise by quoting some of them.
The first one I highlighted was from the break-up with Margot:
“I don’t see the point,” Alice said. “I don’t need it. I don’t think about it.”
“Sex?” Margot laughed — a tiny giggle, as if Alice had told a mildly funny joke. “But you’re Black.”
“Oh Jesus, save me.” Alice covered her mouth with her hands and stared at Margot.
“What? I can tell jokes, too.” She looked confused for a moment before shame made her face turn red. “That was racist wasn’t it? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I swear it was a joke.”
Piece of advice to the Margots out there: if you have to ask if it’s racist, it probably is.
The shocking part of that exchange, of course, is that I’m sure there are a lot of African-American asexuals who’ve gotten that exact response. The book doesn’t have a lot of moments that touch on the racism that Alice has to face in her daily life, but they do crop up from time to time. (Like a horrible creep at a party who tries to force himself on her, while saying that she’s “pretty cute for a Black girl.”) Actually, there was a great reversal of the usual racism situation at one point: Alice was using her phone to listen to music while at work with Takumi, and hastily changed the playlist when a sappy love song came on, accidentally switching to a playlist that started with an anime theme song, and she changed that even faster, not watching to seem racist/culturally insensitive.
After the first time (in the course of the book) that Alice’s parents begin to make it clear that she must go to law school, afterwards she complains of her need for autonomy, with the super-close third person narration going on to add
How else was she supposed to learn? Wait for the magical Adulting Fairy to show up and give her private lessons?
This was one of those moments when I really felt myself bonding with Alice. Because I’m still waiting for the Adulting Fairy to show up at my place…
And that’s when she lost it. Bubbly giggles erupted out of her — total fangirl after her long-suffering ship had their first kiss giggles.
I read that and immediately knew exactly what she meant: she meant me (and half the other women on the Internet) while watching certain scenes in Yuri on Ice.
Her secret shouldn’t even have been one — it should have been a nonissue. Why couldn’t being asexual just be accepted?
Why did she have to spend the rest of her life coming out over and over and over…? And once she did, would people always expect her to talk about it? It would always be a huge deal, she would always be subjected to questions, and she would always have to defend herself.
Would it ever stop feeling like A Thing, a barrier, between her and everyone else?
This sums up exactly what I don’t understand about Alice. When I’ve told people I’m asexual, it’s never felt like a “coming out” (though I admit I’ve never had the nerve to tell my parents) just a statement of fact, and it’s pretty much always been treated that way. But I’ve never been in the position Alice has been repeatedly put in, where she has to try to explain that to someone who wants to be involved with her. (Thank goodness no one has ever been interested in me!)
It’s pretty funny — during sociology last semester, we were discussing the steadily increasing rates of divorce in America and why we thought it was happening. Everyone was referencing their parents’ reason for splitting up and there I was in the corner like ‘My parents love and respect each other. Everything’s great in my house.’
I’ll never forget the time in high school where I was sitting in the hall with some of my “friends” and they were all talking about their parents’ divorces, and they assumed my parents had to be divorced, too, because what else could they be? (FYI, my parents will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year.)
“Ryan rented a horse-drawn carriage for part of Feenie’s promposal. I almost died of jealousy.”
“Ah, promposals. They seem ridiculous.”
Considering that Ryan and Feenie are engaged, I honestly thought that was a typo at first. Because what the pluperfect f*** is a promposal? I mean, is it seriously what it sounds like? If so, that is one of the most laughably pathetic things I’ve heard in some time.
Okay, so I feel like now I’ve put a good dent in it. (Though I still say that episode of Futurama Alice described at one point doesn’t exist. I know the original run from Fox pretty much by heart, and I saw all the Comedy Central episodes (didn’t like them as much, though) and I don’t remember one like that. I think that was a completely different show and Alice (and/or the author) confused it with Futurama because it sounds like the kind of thing that could happen there.)
I’m hoping to like the next book I read more. It’s either going to be 13 or 17; depending on which one is easy to get at the library. I’m sort of torn, actually. I feel like 13 is more appropriate for Black History Month (as my choice for Challenge 13 does involve things that actually happened in the past, whereas Challenge 17 is science fiction) but the idea is sort of to get the next one on Kindle and start it tonight/first thing tomorrow morning, and then get the other at the library when I get near to being finished with it, and they’re much more likely to have 13 than 17 at the library. So…we’ll see what happens in the next few hours. Or rather, I’ll see in the next few hours, and you’ll see whenever I finish the book.
(OMG, I must be getting tired; I am no longer making any sense. Which sucks, because I want to write a post for my other blog before I go to bed. Also, it won’t be bedtime for more than two hours.)