Danika reviews Fresh by Margot Wood

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

I picked up Fresh when I was in a bit of a reading slump, and in the first few pages, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It definitely has a distinct voice. It’s a first person point of view, and it sure sounds like a college freshman telling you a story–which is exactly what this is. It’s Elliot’s first year of university: how she messed it up, and how she tried to rebuild. She’s a little ridiculous, and she has lots of silly asides, including footnotes. It’s a style that will immediately turn some people off and pull others in. Once I bought in, I loved it, and I ended up reading it in two days–so much for that reading slump.

This is loosely inspired by Emma–if Emma was a bisexual girl with ADHD who went to an artsy college but is mainly interested in getting laid. Her family is wealthy, so she’s not too concerned about getting the most out of her education. She likes sex–but not commitment. Her high school relationship ended in heartbreak and humiliation, so she’s strictly casual now. The only assignment she puts any real thought into is an essay for her Sex and Intimacy class (did I mention it’s an artsy school?), where she embarks on a personal quest to sleep with a ton of people to try to find truly Good Sex–and then write about it.

A lot of people (especially on TikTok) are looking for more queer new adult books: books about the beginning years of college and/or just leaving high school, when you’re not quite a fully-fledged adult, but YA no longer reflects your experience. This definitely isn’t my experience with university, which involved still living at home and working to pay for tuition, but it’s certainly somebody’s! It’s got classic sloppy partying scenes and, as mentioned, a lot of casual hookups. Although there is a lot of talk about sex in Fresh, it’s not an erotic or steamy read. Sex is treated very matter of factly, and Elliot doesn’t give it a lot of weight.

I really enjoyed reading about a character who messes up so much. That’s where the Emma comparison comes in: she tries to set up her friend, determined that she knows what’s best for her, without realizing that her own life is very much not together. She’s afraid of intimacy and has no direction. She has no goals for her future, she’s not trying in any of her classes (and also not signing up for serious/useful classes), and she’s also not being a great friend. It doesn’t take long before it all blows up in her face.

I do want to give some clear content warning for both sexual assault and slut shaming. Elliot isn’t treating people well–she’s ghosting her hookups, and they’re not always aware that she only wants something casual–and that gets tangled up in general cultural shaming around women having casual sex (especially bisexual women). It’s clear from context that the slut shaming sentiment is wrong, but it’s not clearly defined. Similarly, while one character treats the attempted sexual assault very seriously (as does Elliot), not every character does, and it also gets mixed up with other things. I don’t think that’s a fault of the writing, necessarily, but I think readers should be aware of that going in.

Despite Elliot’s intimacy issues, there is also a romantic subplot, full of yearning, miscommunication, and a touch of the enemies to painful crush pipeline.

Overall, I thought this was such an absorbing, entertaining read, and I think it’s much-needed for new adult readers. Meanwhile, us older and wiser readers will be shaking our heads fondly at the rollercoaster of college relationships. I definitely never stopped hating the term “tender chicken,” which is used a lot in this book, and really spotlights how not erotic the descriptions of sex are, but I managed to get over that, and I’m grateful for it breaking through my reading slump. If you’re looking for a fun, silly, fast read–or queer new adult about college!–I highly recommend this one.

Shira Glassman reviews Worthy of Love by Quinn Ivins

Worthy of Love cover

The plot: Closeted political lawyer newly released from prison on a corruption charge and therefore utterly friendless and disgraced, ends up working random retail where she meets an adorable, hospitable Southern femme.

I’ve been in a huge reading slump since the lockdown started, sticking with familiar stories I already knew–to the point where there’s at least one Agatha Christie book I’ve read multiple times now in the same pandemic. Quinn Ivins’ Worthy of Love is one of the first unfamiliar books I’ve been able to get myself to read, which I attribute to two things: the exciting plot and the snappy prose. To put it baldly, the text of this book simply was not work to read. Even though the tone of the first third–specifically–was a gritty and somber hellscape, as both heroines battle hopelessness and microaggressions, I kept wanting to know how it was going to turn out all right and turned page after page of snappy narration. (And that’s unusual for me. I prefer comfort reads.)

I want to be honest that this book has sharp edges. For one thing, one of the heroines is presented right off the bat as the most hated woman in America, and the other heroine fends off sexual assault in the parking lot of her workplace. But then the more upsetting material gives way to the love story and the “solving”, and everything works out in a very complete, satisfying, and vindicating way. One of the reasons I ultimately decided to write this review was a positive plot bombshell I hesitate to telegraph–but it’s there. Another reason is one of the deftest Checkov’s Guns I’ve ever seen fired in a book. In other words, a wonderful “oh I GET HOW THIS IS GOING TO WORK OUT AS A HAPPY ENDING” that you don’t see coming until the page it happens. I tip my giant pink-grapefruit hat to the cleverness with which Ivins set that up.

One of the heroines has undiagnosed ADHD for which she begins to get treatment within the book. This, I believe, is written from the inside and elegantly rendered. The other heroine is Filipina, at the request of the author’s wife who is Filipina. This heroine does experience more microaggressions in that first third of the book than I’m comfortable with reading from a white writer, so that is also something I wanted to be up front about. However, I am white, and I don’t want to speak for Asian readers. Additionally, though this book takes place in a fictionalized America with different presidential candidates, this book will not allow you to live a “45”-free existence (although he’s got a different name and only gets mentioned a few times.) Just in case that’s something you needed to know before diving in.

I wish this book was a movie also. Now that I know how satisfyingly everything works out, I’d love to see it dramatized–and structurally, it hits dramatic “beats” like a movie. Who knows, maybe some day!

Shira Glassman is the author of Knit One Girl Two and other queer Jewish fiction, both fantasy and contemporary.

Alexa reviews Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss

Learning Curves is a 70-page novella with little conflict and a fluffy love story between two women at college. One of them is a Puerto Rican lesbian studying family law, and the other one is a white panromantic asexual woman with ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a huge epic plot: Learning Curves is more about everyday life, college, celebrating Christmas, a huge, loving Puerto Rican family, and two women falling in love.

I admit that I easily get bored if I’m reading a longer book with so little plot, but 70 pages was just the perfect amount to still hold my attention and let me enjoy all the little moments. I loved how overly supportive Elena’s mother was, and I loved the two women cooking and baking together, especially Puerto Rican dishes.

There were so many of these little things that I loved. Cora is bookish and loves reading about “magic, dragons and queer people”. Both women are very casual about mentioning their queer identity, and while she doesn’t elaborate, Cora also mentions how even the community itself can be hostile towards certain identities. There was also a throwaway mention of cocky-gate (controversy over one author literally trying to trademark the word “cocky” in romance novel titles), which made me laugh, although it might have been strange to people who didn’t know what it was referring to.

I did have a couple of issues, or rather some things that I found strange but weren’t necessarily bad. This novella felt like it was written from an outsider’s perspective, which isn’t automatically a problem, but I really would have appreciated more insight into the thoughts and feelings of Elena and Cora, or at least one of them. I also felt like the blurb was very misleading: while the two women go to college and meet at one of the classes they have in common, there is really not much focus on their careers, and basically no mention of either of them not having time for love like the blurb says. Moreover, I sometimes found the dialogue strange or clunky. And finally, this is a minor pet peeve, but there were a few acronyms that were never really explained and as a non-US person whose first language isn’t English, I still have genuinely no clue what they are. I could sort of guess from context, but I generally don’t want to be Googling acronyms while reading a book.

I was originally going to rate this 4 stars, but the ace rep and the way it was handled in the relationship pushed it up. I loved that Elena immediately accepted both that Cora is asexual and that she doesn’t want sex, and it wasn’t an issue for a single moment. It might not be the most “realistic”, but it was really nice to finally read a relationship between an asexual and an allosexual person where the allosexual person is the one who agrees not to have sex instead of the asexual person indulging their partner. Another thing I see a lot is that while the non-ace person agrees not to have sex, they still talk about how this is a huge sacrifice for them, which I find really guilt-trippy, but this absolutely wasn’t the case here.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author’s works in the future.

Alexa is a bi ace reviewer who loves books with queer protagonists, especially young adult and fantasy books. E also has a fascination with solarpunk, found families and hopeful futures, and plans to incorporate these in eir own writing. You can find more of eir reviews and bookish talk on WordPress and Twitter @greywardenblue.