Kann, Claire. The Romantic Agenda. New York: Jove, 2022.
ISBN-13: 978-0593336632 | $16.00 USD | 336 pages | Contemporary Romance
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?
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.
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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