Danika reviews Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

 

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this one. Initially, I was really excited to pick it up! A black, biromantic, asexual main character in a YA romance? That is definitely not an intersection often explored. I was looking forward to something fun and fairly light, and initially, I thought that was what I was getting. Alice is an adorable main character. She’s still mostly closeted as asexual, but she’s done a lot of thinking about it. She’s developed a Cutie Scale, which basically measures her aesthetic attraction–not just to people, but to all kind of cute things. (Alice is obsessed with cute.)

I loved Feenie–the grouch–immediately. She hates everyone but her boyfriend (Ryan) and Alice. The three of them live together, and form a tight-knit family. Feenie has always been fiercely protective of Alice, including punching a girl in the face in high school who made fun of Alice for being asexual. She’s rough around the edges, but I was invested in their little family. And–initially–I really liked Takumi as well. He almost seemed too perfect (which they flat-out say in text). It was a promising beginning! But… little irritations started to add up.

They didn’t seem major at first. For example, Alice works at the library, but doesn’t seem to care about it or enjoy it that much. She’s constantly off in a corner with Takumi, not working. Her boss also doesn’t like being a librarian. This is a very minor point, but it was puzzling to me: librarianship is a highly competitive field that doesn’t pay well. How would people who are indifferent to it get in and keep these jobs? And then there were some weird class moments, but that’s eventually addressed (Alice keeps saying that she’s poor and her parents are rich, but that’s not really what being poor is. Alice has a safety net, even if it comes with restrictions she doesn’t want. She equates the idea of being cut off from their money as being disowned.)

Her family is also… Well, they seem realistically complicated, but I can see how Alice was constantly stressing about it. She’s the youngest sibling by decades, and everyone seems to be determined to make her decisions for her. Her mother, especially, insists that she has to go to law school or she’s throwing away her future. Every time she does anything that her mother doesn’t approve of, all of her older siblings call and text constantly to criticize her. There is love there, but it had me stressed out just reading about it.

Soon, even the aspects I was enjoying started to fizzle out (or explode). Feenie went from gruff-but-lovable to downright shitty. Feenie and Ryan are engaged, and although the three of them are theoretically a unit, Alice is often the third wheel. Which is fine, until Alice starts going off with Takumi and Feenie goes into a rage over it. Both Feenie and Ryan seem to expect Alice to constantly be available to them, though that’s not equally true of them.

Spoilers follow for the rest of this review, because I have Thoughts.

When Feenie and Alice finally discuss what’s come between them, it turns into Alice calling herself an asshole and saying she’s been selfish, which is… not what I had been seeing. Although they form a shaky truth, it didn’t feel resolved for me. Feenie stopped being a favourite and instead felt like a toxic, possessive relationship.

And speaking of relationships! I was into Takumi at first because, as stated, he seemed pretty much perfect. Which meant the ending gave me whiplash. On reflection, I realized that I felt like there was no middle to the book. Alice and Takumi get closer and closer, without any real conflict between them until the end. They basically seem to already be dating. So it was a shock to me that when Alice finally (finally) actually asks him out, he spouts off the same ignorant things that we’ve already heard from her previous ex. Takumi–who knew Alice was asexual, who had seemed supportive–says that if she really loved him, she would let him have sex with her. Which is appalling to me. Why would you ever want to have sex with someone who didn’t want to be there? I can understand him saying “I don’t think I could give up sex.” But that was terrible to read. I actually found my eyes skimming over his whole speech, because I couldn’t understand why Alice was going through this again, when it had already happened in the beginning of the book. He did later sort of take it back, but to me, the damage was done. I no longer saw it as a happily ever after, because I didn’t like Takumi anymore.

I did read a review of an earlier draft of this book that clarified some things for me. Apparently in earlier drafts, Takumi was not a saint. In fact, he was downright skeezy at points. And that explains why I felt like there was no middle to the book: originally, it was a push and pull between Takumi and Alice, with Takumi pressuring Alice into things she wasn’t comfortable with. Understandably, that was criticized, and most of that was removed, but that puts the ending in context, as well as their lack of conflict in the middle of the book.

I’m disappointed, because I was really enjoying the read for the first 3/4 of the book, even with the minor issues I had with it, but the ending left my unsatisfied. Takumi went from eerily perfect to (in my eyes) irredeemable on a dime. Alice’s relationships with her family–both by birth and chosen–were still strained. It was far from the fluffy, uplifting ending I was expecting, though I know it was supposed to be a HEA.

I know other people really enjoyed this book, and I can see why. But it left me stressed and sad, which I don’t think was the intention.

Danika reviews Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant

I knew I would like Sugar Town from the cover alone, and from the first page, it didn’t disappoint.

This is a queer, polyamorous, BDSM fluffy love story. Hazel is in an open relationship with her boyfriend, and she bumps into Argent, a confident and kind domme, at a party. They click instantly, and Argent helps Hazel learn more about negotiating polyamorous relationships. All of the relationships are so caring and gentle.

My favourite scene was probably the BDSM scene (which is pretty tame and mostly off-panel, if it concerns you). Argent is using a whip on Hazel when Hazel says “Hang on,” and Argent immediately stops, checks in, and finds out that Hazel pulled something in her back, though she was thoroughly enjoying the scene. They cuddle and watch cooking shows instead. It’s BDSM as a completely consensual, mutual, and even kind activity for partners to enjoy together. That’s something I very rarely see.

Do I keep using the word “kind”? I can’t help it. Sugar Town is a sweet, soft story. Everyone in it treats each other with respect and caring. They check in. They talk about their feelings. Hazel is still figuring out jealousy and other aspects of polyamory, but that’s okay. They’re not simmering underneath, they’re freely discussed. They’re not perfect–Argent mentions experiencing suicidal thoughts, Hazel is self-conscious and doubts herself–but they  are supportive of each other and the rest of the people in their lives, whether they’re friends or partners.

I also loved the art style, which reinforces that warm and welcoming feel. I want to crawl inside the pages and curl up there. This is definitely one of my rare 5 star ratings: I loved every panel, and I know I will return to it when I need something hopeful to dive into for a little while. What a treat.

Laura reviews Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Publisher’s Blurb:

Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.

Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.

Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.


I have mixed feelings about Malinda Lo’s Adaptation.

On the one hand, I think the “young adult” aspects are stellar, particularly where Lo delves into sexuality. She really captures the feeling of adolescent excitement and uncertainty — and boy, can she write a kissing scene. When the bisexual protagonist is walked in on by her mother, the ensuing “coming out” discussion feels totally natural. I really appreciated how smoothly it was integrated with the rest of the plot. (Because that’s more or less how it happens in real life, right? The world doesn’t grind to a halt as you figure out your sexuality. Life — work, school, alien invasions, whatever — continues to happen.)

I also loved the realistic reactions the characters had to the (sometimes very fantastic) events unfolding around them. For example, when a national emergency strikes, Reese and David aren’t dashing about making heroic speeches — they’re worrying about the charges on their cellphones running out. Lo’s attention to detail brings this novel a long way.

Unfortunately, this dedicated effort isn’t quite enough to redeem the plot’s pitfalls. When the author treads in familiar YA territory (the sexual awakening, the love triangle, the gay best friend, the single mother, etc.), I barely notice. It’s still compelling. However, when similarly well worn sci-fi tropes (government conspiracy, Area 51, sudden unusual abilities, etc.) are trotted out on top of this, I can’t help but cringe a little.

Lo’s application of sci-fi elements feels like the heavy handed work of a student attempting to imitate the work of a genre master. It’s almost Frankenstein-y — bits and pieces of other things that are good, stitched together into something much less attractive. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically, whenever you get a hunch about anything in this story, you’re right. There’s very little subtlety to the book’s storytelling — you’re just repeatedly hit over the head with “hints” about what’s coming next. By the time your suspicions are confirmed, you aren’t even pleased to find that you were right all along. You just have a headache.

Still, I hold out hope that this book’s weaknesses will be worked out in the sequel, which will be published in September. The story ends on an intriguing cliffhanger, and depending on how the next book plays out, it could very well redeem what currently reads as weak story development. Adaptation is Lo’s first foray into science fiction, and while there are many flaws, I trust the author. I loved Ash, and I want to believe that Lo knows what she’s doing. Maybe subtlety will come in time. Maybe not. Either way, I know I’ll be reading the next book to find out.

Adaptation was also reviewed for the Lesbrary by Erica.