Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realizes adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.
Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.
A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.
EDIT, TO N.R. WALKER: I am very sorry, I didn’t realize your blog even had comments, to say nothing of pingbacks! If I had known, I would not have linked your blog at all! I think it is in poor taste to accost an author with reviews and beg you to please forgive me!
Despite the fact that I spend a considerable amount of my time looking at and analyzing asexual representation, there is an obvious hole in my repertoire: English-language novels. Given that this is probably the fastest growing area of explicit ace rep, it seems like maybe I should take a bigger interest in it, but…. *deep sigh* It’s not like I don’t read fiction, or don’t read it in English, or am categorically opposed to YA or Romance or what-have-you as genres. I honestly can’t put my finger on the why, but novels don’t tend to do it for me in general.
I tell you this because I want you to be able accurately salt my opinion before you digest it. Y’all, I kept the tab open for months waiting until I could put in an Interlibrary Loan request and waited patiently for the book to come 2,500 miles and it… was not… worth it. But let no one say I did not try! For science!
This is not an uncommon opinion judging from the Goodreads reviews, but a lot of the reason I didn’t really enjoy this book came down to the “who”—although not quite for the same reason. The novel alternates POVs, but the main character is really our logorrheic librarian, Jordan, I did also find him a bit of a trial, and he did strike me as a little immature for 26, but as far as his base personality goes, let’s say I suspect my annoyance stems from him sharing many qualities I don’t like about myself. No, my real issue with him has to do with the emotional logic of how he relates to asexuality. Which means the real who at issue for me was the author.
N.R. Walker says on her blog that Jordan is her asexuality story, and ma’am, you didn’t need to tell me that. Now, I am not a twentysomething gay ace man, and I’ve only had the chance to spend a few days in Sydney, but it seemed to me like Jordan’s emotional core and his stage-of-life didn’t match. I don’t think this is necessarily a knock on Walker’s skills as an author. I am not dissimilar in certain ways to Hennessy, and he worked for me, as did the other characters in the book to the extent we were allowed insight into their inner workings. Rather, I think Walker’s priorities about what it was important to include stem from a very personal place, and that reflects her stage-of-life, not that of a hypothetical 26-year-old fully plugged into the queer community. I also think there is a lack of perspective that a similar story from someone who had known about asexuality for many years might have brought. Again, I’m not knocking her, or any of the many, many people who write with the fervor of the recently converted. It’s just not for me, decade-plus veteran and certified curmudgeon™
While the characters didn’t really connect with me, I want to say I support this plot 100%. There’s a part where Jordan editorializes for a minute about why people shouldn’t look down on more popular genres and asks what is wrong with wanting people to be able to see happy endings in romance novels, and I agree. Everyone gets a happy ending in this book, and there is not a thing wrong with that! In fact, given that both of our main couple have histories of trying to force themselves to be people they aren’t for romantic partners, it is downright refreshing that they find someone who loves them for who they are. There is a criticism one could make here in that it kind of implies the only way aces can be happy is in relationships with other aces, but 1) the book says to us that’s not true and 2) the characters genuinely feel this way (see: their histories), so I think it would be a stretch to say that just because they feel a certain way about the dating pools open to them personally that we need to generalize that out into some political statement.
Speaking of political statements, that’s the clumsiest part of the novel, I think. There’s this aces & aro support group (although how much aro issues are focused on is an open question) that Hennessy runs, and they’re used almost more like a plot device than a character or group of characters. It actually makes me a little uncomfortable; it’s one thing for their friends to be invested in their romance, but this group also seems to exists only in service to the main couple and things the author thought needed to be said that she couldn’t work in another way.
And while I’m complaining—welcome to my blog—it drove me a little batty that the things that they were able to ~connect on~ were without exception extremely well-embedded in popular culture. The first thing is the book Flowers for Algernon, which was required reading in middle school for some of my friends, and their resulting conversation is one I could have had—and I’ve never read it! Quoting extremely famous authors is “unfair” and takes Jordan’s breath away, and knowing not to feed gremlins after midnight makes him “perfect.” In fact, I’m kind of offended on behalf of the men of Australia, who are portrayed as barely literate. Like, I suppose this could just be the difference in the education systems, but cursory research suggests that most if not all of the secondary school leaving certificates have English as a mandatory subject even if they require nothing else. I could see Flowers for Algernon being obscure in Australia, but I find it very hard to believe Alice in Wonderland is. (There was also an Ayn Rand appearance that did not impress me.) Look, authors shouldn’t have to be experts on every single thing in the world, or write only on things they’re experts about, so I shall not dwell on the birds or disbelieving in hackers, but maybe rethink if literary references are going to be central to your plot and you’re out here making incomprehensible sex jokes about asexy icon Hamlet???
But yes, it was a cute little plot, that has some fun twists and turns, and for someone who could connect with the characters, I think it would be great. For me.. a solid C.