(Goodreads summary here.)
My quest to read every book with an ace main character continues. This, along with Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence and Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy, pops up on every list I find and for good reason.
At first, I wasn’t sure this book was going to be one I actually liked. As the book progressed, however, it transformed from something I thought I could pass on to something that I adored. I also read it in nearly one sitting, which is a testament to how invested I was in the characters and the story.
The bulk of this book is character-driven, which I feel is a little uncommon for LGBTQ+ narratives. At least in the ones I’ve read (which, granted, is unfortunately still limited)(I’m working on it), there seems to usually be some event that occurs early in the story and escalates as it progresses. That’s not a catch-all for LGBTQ+ fiction, but it’s been my experience. While those stories are all still very much about a single character and their thoughts and actions, they also seem to be propelled by the action of the story. Let’s Talk About Love is not really like that. Sure, there are some events that reshape Alice and her relationships with others, but most of what happens is driven by her thoughts and words. I really loved seeing Alice grow, both in her friendship with Feenie and Ryan, and in her friendship with Takumi. I thought it really allows us to see further into who Alice is as a person.
My favorite aspect of this book was Alice’s friendship with Feenie and Ryan. First off, I think it’s so refreshing to see the kind of strong, loving female friendship that exists between Alice and Feenie. I really saw myself in that, since that’s pretty much the exact relationship I have with my best friend/roommate/other half. Platonic soulmates are real, folks, and Kann expertly portrays that with the relationship between Alice and Feenie. They’re so infinitely comfortable with one another, and, while they fight and have their differences, they’re still best of friends at the end of the day. As for Ryan, it was a lot of the same things. I think it’s really important to show that mixed gender friendships can exist and can exist healthily and lovingly. The bond between the three of them is rare to see in fiction. It’s also very real, because they don’t get along perfectly, which, of course, is impossible in real life, but they make it work because they love each other. Basically, give me all the loving friendships ever. They are infinitely more interesting to me than relationships.
Another aspect of that friendship I loved is the depiction of Alice as a third wheel to Feenie and Ryan. They’re in a relationship, so obviously they have a connection that’s different from the one they both have with Alice, yet they do their best to include her in everything. That’s also something I really loved seeing, especially since, again, it’s something I personally deal with. Said best friend from above is in a relationship, and more often than not, I tag along with the pair of them. While I’m not nearly as close with her boyfriend as Alice is with Ryan, he’s still my friend. It’s hard to manage being a third wheel, even a wanted one, and I think that’s something that gets skipped over a lot in fiction. Again, it’s so nice to see something that isn’t often depicted.
I really resonated with Alice’s fixation on aesthetics. She uses it to help quantify her attraction to others, since she doesn’t look at people in the way allosexual people tend to. I thought it was so important to show that ace people can still find people attractive. I might just have to start utilizing Alice’s Cutie Code in my own everyday life. While she definitely has a firmer grasp on putting aesthetics together than I do, I definitely loved how she uses it not only for her own pleasure, but to help others understand as well.
The budding relationship between Alice and Takumi is absolutely, 100% adorable, and I loved every second of it (definitely somewhere in the Reds on the Cutie Code). So many moments had me grinning from ear to ear with cuteness, which was kind of problem since I read most of this at work and didn’t want people to think I was weird. It’s a remarkable slow burn that focuses on their friendship before it becomes a relationship, which is one of my favorite tropes. It really helps show how a relationship doesn’t need to be based on sex to be healthy and loving, which is so, so important. I think a lot of people don’t understand how an ace person can be in a relationship, and I think this book, and this relationship in particular, is a great place to start an explanation. It also helped me understand a bit more about myself (prepare for some personal stuff). I feel like I want the kind of romantic relationship that Alice and Takumi have, but I just don’t like people the way Alice seems to. She can picture herself being in a relationship with someone; I can’t. But it does help to show me that, if I did end up in the same place as her, it could be something that is possible for me. The book addresses a lot of the questions and concerns allo people have about ace partners, and I think the answers, in this situation, with these people, helps to show just how it can work and what the appropriate and inappropriate responses are. Takumi is what should happen, while Margot is what should not happen.
Speaking of Takumi, Mr. Perfect over here is just on the verge of being too perfect. It’s perhaps my only complaint with the book as a whole, but mostly just because I want to know where I can find one. The other slight issue I have is personal as well. I read this book when I was just a week shy of turning 20. Alice is 19, and, while she certainly has some stuff she needs to figure out, she still seems to have her life much more put together than I do, and I have a year on her. I know people move at their own speeds, but I can’t help feel slightly inadequate. Alice is only 19, and yet she has managed to find what appears to be her perfect match, as have Feenie and Ryan. I know relationships aren’t the end-all-be-all in life, but since it is something I think I want in life, I feel woefully behind. Like I said, a bit of a small complaint, since it is fiction, but a complaint nonetheless.
The final thing I loved about this book was how it helped show me different experiences. Sure, I have a lot in common with Alice, but there’s also a remarkable number of things we don’t have in common. As much as this is a book about sexuality, it’s also about class and race and familial expectations. Alice is biromantic; I am not. Alice is upper middle class; I don’t have the benefit of the “upper.” She feels pressure from her family to excel, largely because of her race. I, fortunately, have never had to experience that nor will I ever. As a white, middle-class female, there are all sorts of experiences Alice has in this book that I will never go through. And while that’s fortunate for me, that doesn’t mean I want them to happen to others. I will take any and all opportunities to educate myself on other people’s struggles so that I can help make a change. That is something that I think is essential to understanding this book.
Kann really does a beautiful job writing this story. I don’t read a ton of third-person narratives, but I think this almost reads like a first-person point of view. Sure, it’s largely because it’s limited third person, so we only get Alice’s thoughts and feelings, but it also just felt remarkable personal. There’s a really unique voice that I adored. Another thing that caught me by surprise is how funny it is. There were moments that had me snickering out loud, which is actually quite rare (again, I was also at work, so that was embarrassing), so major points for that as well. Sure, it tackles some serious subject matter, but this is really a fun book at its core.
The main reason I was skeptical at first is because of how Alice responds to her breakup with Margot. I totally understand why people get upset after a breakup, but I tend to think it gets overdramatic very quickly, especially when it’s portrayed in YA fiction. I mean, I know they suck (well, I know hypothetically, since I’ve never actually experienced one), but I hate when they get made out to be the end of the world. This is kind of a bigger complaint with society because of how much importance is placed on relationships in general, but I think that’s a discussion for another day. (In the meantime, check out Lost in a Story’s discussion post on aphobia in the media.) However, as I got to see more of Alice, I realized that, for her, it wasn’t an overreaction. At the core of Alice’s character is how deeply her emotions affect her. While I was still a bit exasperated at some of her responses to the events in her life, I came to understand them as well. Ultimately, I thought it was crucial that Kann portrayed Alice in this way. In doing so, she helps debunk the myth that people who are ace are unfeeling robots. Alice shows that you can care deeply for others, love them, and be in relationships with them without wanting to have sex with them, which I really, truly appreciate.
Speaking of Radio Silence and Tash, I’ve been really frustrated with brick-and-mortar bookstores because they never seem to have these in stock. I think I lucked out when I bought Tash at the Strand, but I couldn’t find the other two there or at the other two Barnes and Noble stores I went to after. I got this through OverDrive, and I know libraries still show support for authors, but I want to help prove that these kind of books can sell and should have a stronger place in the market. I know I can still order them, but I feel like it’s not the same. I want people who are just browsing the shelves to be able to pick these up. I want to not have to go out of my way to get books that I resonate with. I want all sectors of the LGBT+ community to have a place in the literary world and for everyone to have an opportunity to read about their experiences.
I started this book for the ace protagonist but fell in love with it for the friendships Kann depicts. They’re all so real and genuine, and I really saw myself in them. It taught me a lot about myself and what I need to learn about others, which is really all you can ask for in a book, right? I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially for people who love a good story of friendship.
Have you read Let’s Talk About Love? Are there any other books with swoon-worthy romances that you love, particularly LGBTQ+ ones? Any other books with ace characters you can recommend me to further my quest?