Meryl Wilsner’s Cleat Cute is probably one of the most talked-about sapphic romances of the fall, at least in my circles, and in my opinion, the hype is deserved. It follows serious team captain Grace Henderson and enthusiastic up-and-comer Phoebe Matthews from a rocky first impression to a growing respect to genuine romantic feelings, all amidst preparations for the World Cup.
As someone who cared about soccer for one weekend and never before or since, I will say first that you definitely do not need to care about soccer to care about this book. Soccer is of course the backdrop, and it’s important to both of the main characters, but none of it is so detailed that it loses readers who aren’t soccer fans. As a theater person rather than a sports-of-any-sort person, I could still relate to a lot of this book, with all of the passion and dedication, even to the point of overdoing it and needing the reminder that, hey, it’s okay to rest.
I loved the characters a lot. Their banter made me laugh, and I smiled a lot through most of their interactions, whether it was in a this-is-funny way or a I’m-so-happy-for-these-characters-connecting kind of way. I definitely felt like I could understand why they liked each other, which is the most important thing for me in romance. I loved how seriously they took each other, pretty much from the beginning, especially when it came to how they handled each other’s neurodivergence, even before either one had actually put a word to it. I will say that I would not have been mad if some of the side characters got more page-time as well because they were all lovely, but I get that it’s not their story, so.
I will say that most of the conflict seemed to stem from miscommunication, which can be frustrating and isn’t usually my favorite, but it was so understandably in-character that I actually didn’t really mind it here. It never felt contrived, and it was resolved quickly enough that it didn’t make me wonder how they would ever be able to make a relationship work moving forward. I also have to say, the way the final misunderstanding was resolved was fantastic and it actually made me cackle.
This was definitely my favorite romance I’ve read in a while, and while I’m not actually a huge romance reader, this was definitely one to remind me why I like coming back to this genre.