“The Romantic Agenda” by Claire Kann (Review)

Kann, Claire. The Romantic Agenda. New York: Jove, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593336632 | $16.00 USD | 336 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Joy is in love with Malcolm.
But Malcolm really likes Summer.
Summer is in love with love.
And Fox is Summer’s ex-boyfriend.

Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life—and no, it’s not Joy—she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox.

Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy—and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?

Review 

5 stars 

The Romantic Agenda (or something in this vein) was the book I have been waiting for Claire Kann to write, ever since I fell in love with her debut, Let’s Talk About Love. Neither of her other books between that one and this one captured the same magic…but this one does that and more. 

I adore Joy and feel a lot of kinship with her, similar to Alice, the heroine of LTAL. She expresses many sentiments about asexuality, both in terms of her own experience with it and as a broader spectrum, that spoke to me. I also like that she expresses her dissatisfaction with the way people, both asexual and allosexual, make assumptions or judgments about what it means to be asexual, and how, for example, other aces tried to gatekeep her because she chose to show off her body, and that she’s a “setting a bad example for the movement” or  “confusing people.” There isn’t just one way to be asexual, and I love the way Joy, and the book in general, express that. 

This book is a bit of a love…triangle/almost-square, and it’s perhaps one of the best I’ve read, that explored the complex emotions of the characters, while still making all of them endearing, if sometimes a bit messy. I definitely felt Malcolm took Joy for granted for most of the book, but there’s a sense of history there that can’t be explained. Malcolm has some secrets about his feelings for Joy that are revealed late in the book, and I appreciated how that was handled, still with the acknowledgment that their current trajectories with their new partners are better for them. 

And while Summer is a bit of a love rival for Malcolm’s attention, I appreciate that there’s no bitchiness on her part, even if Joy isn’t exactly warm toward her at first. I did like how their relationship evolved as they spent time together, especially as Joy also got to know Fox, which colored her interactions with the others as her feelings evolved. 

And then, there’s Fox. He’s pretty wonderful. I was afraid at first he’d be defined by being grumpy, to contrast Joy’s optimism, but I really like how he actually sees Joy. He helps her initially with no ulterior motives of his own (in fact, they both suspect Malcolm and Summer of ulterior motives of their own  in inviting them), and I really like how understanding he is of Joy’s boundaries. And the subtle ways Joy tries to reciprocate…that’s freaking cute! My only wish is that Joy could have been able to fully shake her attachment to Malcolm sooner, so she could invest more in Fox sooner, but I can also understand  the reasoning behind the choices made. 

This is an awesome book, and I love the balance between conventional romance beats and the more introspective moments. If you’ve been craving more asexual rep in romance, I’d recommend this one.

Author Bio

Claire Kann is the author of several young adult novels and is an award-winning online storyteller. In her other life she works for a nonprofit you may have heard of where she daydreams like she’s paid to do it. She loves cats and is obsessed with horror media (which makes the whole being known for writing contemporary love stories a little weird, to be honest).

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“Fire Becomes Her” by Rosiee Thor (Review)

Thor, Rosiee. Fire Becomes Her. New York: Scholastic Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1338679113 | $18.99 USD | 358 pages | YA Historical Fantasy 

Blurb

In Rosiee Thor’s lavish fantasy novel with a Jazz Age spark, a politically savvy teen must weigh her desire to climb the social ladder against her heart in a world where magic buys votes.

Flare is power.

With only a drop of flare, one can light the night sky with fireworks . . . or burn a building to the ground — and seventeen-year-old Ingrid Ellis wants her fair share.

Ingrid doesn’t have a family fortune, monetary or magical, but at least she has a plan: Rise to the top on the arm of Linden Holt, heir to a hefty political legacy and the largest fortune of flare in all of Candesce. Her only obstacle is Linden’s father who refuses to acknowledge her.

So when Senator Holt announces his run for president, Ingrid uses the situation to her advantage. She strikes a deal to spy on the senator’s opposition in exchange for his approval and the status she so desperately craves. But the longer Ingrid wears two masks, the more she questions where her true allegiances lie.

Will she stand with the Holts, or will she forge her own path?

Review 

4 stars 

I didn’t know much about Fire Becomes Her prior to picking it up, but I was grabbed by the promise of aro/ace-spec rep in a historical/fantasy setting. And upon diving in…wow! The Jazz-Age vibes are immaculate, and I love how seamlessly the flare-magic is incorporated to be aligned with the immense wealth of the period. And given the politically-centered rage so many of us in marginalized communities are feeling right now, I loved the general themes of “eat the rich” and bringing down a corrupt career/legacy politician. Rosiee Thor pretty much sold  it this way themselves as “For anyone who wants to set Mitch McConnell on fire,” and that statement will never not be gold. 

I wasn’t sure how to feel about her  at first, but Ingrid soon won me over. She’s clever and resourceful, and is very much aware of the injustices people outside of the upper class face, given her own origins. Her development from wanting an “in” with the powerful people, including the young senator’s son she thought she was in love with, to learning about radical new ideas through a new political  rising star and her followers is compelling to observe. And in the process; it’s wonderful to see her come to a realization about her own identity and what she wants on a personal level. 

And the fact that aroace identity isn’t tokenized in this one, with there being multiple people in the cast who either identify this way (or describe themselves in a way that resembles this, given it is within a historical context) or come to that realization over time is wonderful, and to see one of those develop into a queerplatonic bond by the end? And I love how the book really went in an atypical direction with the romantic aspects, especially given YA fantasy’s general tendency to aggressively push it. The characters are together at the beginning, but their evolution over the course of the book isn’t dramatic at all (in fact, exactly the opposite), with exception of the role a certain evil politician parent plays. 

I really enjoyed this book, and would indeed echo Rosiee Thor’s recommendation that this will satisfy those who wish to set Mitch McConnell (and his ilk) on fire. 

Author Bio

Rosiee Thor began her career as a storyteller by demanding to tell her mother bedtime stories instead of the other way around. She spent her childhood reading by flashlight in the closet until she came out as queer. She lives in Oregon with a dog, a cat, and an abundance of plants. She is the author of the young adult novel Tarnished Are the Stars. 

http://www.rosieethor.com 

Twitter: @RosieeThor

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“Loveless” by Alice Oseman (Review)

Oseman, Alice. Loveless. New York: Scholastic Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1338751932 | $18.99 USD | 393 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb 

From the marvelous creator of Heartstopper comes an exceptional YA novel about discovering it’s Jay if you don’t have sexual or romantic feelings for anyone…since  there are plenty of other ways to find love and connection. 

This is the funny, honest, messy story of Georgia, who doesn’t understand why she can’t crush and kiss and make out like so many of her friends do. Everyone seemed to say that dating + sex = love. It’s not until she gets to college that she discovers the A range of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum—coming to understand herself as asexual/aromantic. 

Disrupting the narrative she’s been told since birth isn’t easy—there are many mistakes along the way to inviting people into a newly found articulation of an always-known part of your identity. But Georgia’s determined to get her life right, with the help of (and despite the major drama of) her friends.

Review 

5 stars 

Needless to say, I’ve been anxiously waiting for the US release of Loveless for ages. While I didn’t click with one of the previous Alice Oseman books I tried (it does a mechanics thing that drives me bonkers and made keeping up with it impossible), I had a lot of hope for this one. My one beef is the way all the marketing is being poured into this book, to the point where aro/ace-spec readers find themselves being alienated to not see themselves in this book, because publishing is positioning this as the book about aromanticism and asexuality, after having little to no room for it, instead of making more space for books like this at the table and marketing them all as different perspectives on a broad spectrum of identities. 

Because, at the end of the day, regardless of how much, if at all, Alice Oseman consulted other aromantic asexuals, Georgia’s story will mostly resemble their experience. And there are definitely some elements of myself I see in Georgia, as a panromantic (if somewhat overly socially awkward) graysexual: I like the idea of romance more than the general principle that dating + sex = love, or some other combination. I’ve never had a sex dream. While there is some nuance to this concept, I’m not the sort of person who can just look at some random shirtless man and be drawn to his body (Lord save me from the potential mainstream resurgence of shirtless, headless man cover art!) I’ve never kissed anyone, and I’ve never felt the pressure many place around it. But that’s not to say I’ve never felt attraction, although it’s much less (if at all) about sexual things, but more about something deeper or more substantial, like how they express themselves. 

But regardless of how much overlap I do and don’t have with Georgia, it’s wonderful to read about a protagonist who also feels she doesn’t fit into the allonormative society which seems open to other identities and types of sexual expression, and don’t openly ostracize her, but passively make her realize she doesn’t meet their expectations. I felt for her as she went on this journey throughout the book, with this feeling that, for whatever reason, she was doomed to be loveless. 

But in spite of the title, I love how full of love this book is, indicating that romantic love and sexual passion aren’t the only valid forms of expression, and removing the “just” from “just friends” to show the strength of platonic love. Despite some of the awkward experiences Georgia navigates in finding herself, she finds a solid friend group, even if they’re also dealing with their own issues that further complicate things. And the queerplatonic relationship that forms between her and Rooney, which seems somewhat unlikely at first, given that Rooney spends the majority of the book being a disaster pansexual, is super sweet, and I loved seeing the inner vulnerability beneath Rooney’s party-girl persona and how well it meshed with Georgia and her desire to be loved and love in return. 

This book is absolutely wonderful, and while any reservations people may have about it are valid, I appreciate what it is doing in providing mainstream rep of one perspective of asexuality and aromanticism. 

Author Bio

Alice Oseman was born in 1994 in Kent, England. She graduated from Durham University and is the creator of the popular graphic novel series Heartstopper, as well as YA novels including Solitaire, Radio Silence, and I Was Born for This. In the UK, Loveless was awarded the prestigious YA Book Prize. Learn more about Alice at https://www.aliceoseman.com

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