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.
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