Sara, it’s been forever since you’ve written a review of an ace fiction book.
It took me a while to feel like writing one again. Also, I had to start reading ace fiction books again to write more reviews.
What is this novel about?
Alice, a nineteen year old college student, is dumped by her girlfriend/dorm-mate Margot because Margot feels that Alice does not want to have sex with her (which is true, Alice was only consenting to sex with Margot to preserve their relationship). Alice knows she is asexual, but stays in the closet, and the way Margot dumped her reinforces her conviction not to tell people she’s ace. Then she meets her new co-worker, Takumi, and Alice has very strong feelings about him as soon as he meet him. Might some of those feelings be sexual attraction? Since Alice has definitely never experienced sexual attraction before, she does not know what the hell sexual attraction is supposed to feel like, how would she know? Meanwhile, her best friends, Feenie and Ryan, are going to get married, and Alice fears that as they become more of a couple they are pushing her away. And on top of all that, Alice’s parents and sister are pressuring her to declare her major and prepare to go to law school as soon as she finishes undergrad, and Alice totally does not want to do that.
What sexual and/or violent content is there in this novel?
There is no on-page sex. There is discussion of Alice’s sexual history, and later a bit of Takumi’s sexual history, as well as references to Feenie and Ryan’s (off-page) sex life. A stranger sexually harasses Alice. There is little in the way of physical violence, but quite a bit of emotional violence.
Tell me more about this novel.
The novel has a particular writing style/tone. I’m not sure how to describe it, so I’ll just spam you with quotes:
Alice had had her first creepy moment, crowning herself the creepiest Creepy McCreeperton in existence.
Was it really anyone’s business that Alice didn’t feel sexual attraction when the rest of the world did? It was Alice’s secret. She could guard it like Smaug hoarding gold if she wanted to.
Willy Wonka could wrap her in plastic, market her, and sell her as a limited edition fool-flavored candy.
He grinned, but was also wringing his hands. “But that’s not all it is, right? You like me as a person, too?”
It took everything Alice had not to laugh at the universe’s perverse sense of humor. Her Personal Living God of Confusing Attraction, Takumi, wanted to know if she, Asexual Alice, liked him as a person.
You might want to strap in for this ride I like to call Not Black Enough to Be the Black Sheep of Black Excellence.
I’m on that rapid weight-loss diet called Starvation Because I Spent My Last Six Dollars on Laundry.
Throughout the book, I was struck by how much Alice is unlike me. It was like being immersed in the head of someone who has a very different worldview. It meant I did not get the ‘this so represents me’ feeling, on the other hand it was interesting, and was a reminder that not everybody thinks like me. For example, Alice doesn’t like exercise and loves sitting on the couch and binge-watching TV shows. I love going on walks and hikes, and while I can enjoy watching TV for a hour to an hour-and-a-half, beyond that I will get restless (unless I am physically ill).
Sara, I think you are like Alice in that you like to write essays about TV shows.
That was years ago.
Okay, fine, I still write essays about TV shows once in a while.
And you also like to eat [vegan] ice cream in winter, and you also don’t like jogging.
Hey, I’m not saying I’m completely unlike Alice. After all, we’re both female aces living in California.
And the fact that I get such a clear sense of who Alice is so that it is so easy for me to compare her to myself demonstrates that she is a very vividly written character.
The main plot seemed to be about Alice’s developing relationship with Takumi. While I was interested in Alice sorting out her feelings and whether or not she was experiencing sexual attraction, that was only in focus in the first part of the novel, and I was not so terribly interested in Alice’s actual relationship with Takumi. There was a sub-plot about Alice’s relationship with Feenie and Ryan, which was potentially much more interesting to me, except it was not fully developed. I think I would have found this story much more interesting if Alice’s relationship with Feenie and Ryan had been the main plot, and her relationship with Takumi had been the sub-plot.
On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this as an 8.
Alice’s experience with asexuality is very different from mine. That means I did not read this and think ‘aha, this is exactly how I feel as an ace!’ on the other hand it gave me a glimpse of a different way of experiencing asexuality. One obvious difference is that I’m aromantic and Alice is very biromantic. She has also previously had sex (though early in the novel she has decided to stop having sex) largely due to social pressure, whereas I have never had sex nor experienced direct pressure to have sex (I have experienced indirect pressure to have sex – such as pressure to go get a boyfriend – but I’ve never experienced a direct pressure to have sex, such as the way Margot pressured Alice).
Furthermore, though I experience aesthetic attraction, I don’t experience it nearly as strongly as Alice, or maybe it’s just not as personally important to me as it is the Alice.
Does the book make it clear that not all aces are like Alice i.e. that aromantic aces exist, that not all aces experience aesthetic attraction, some aces don’t like kissing, etc.?
The book vaguely mentions that not all aces are like Alice, and IIRC it briefly mentions that not all aces experience aesthetic attraction (or was that kissing), but nowhere does it state that aromantic aces exist.
That sucks, it’s bad ace rep if the book does not mention that some aces are not as into romance as Alice is.
You know what, I disagree with you. No, this novel does not acknowledge aromanticism, but I don’t think it’s on Alice and her story to represent all aces.
I’m not saying Alice needs to represent all aces, that’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s harmful if the book does not make it clear that not all aces want romance like Alice does. How hard would it be for the writer to add JUST A COUPLE SENTENCES which acknowledge that some aces are very different from Alice when it comes to romance and kissing and aesthetic attraction?
*sigh* I don’t think this book is obligated to do that. If this book existed in an environment where aromanticism were a widely known phenomenon, would you be complaining?
No, but that’s a hypothetical situation, this book might be the first time a reader is exposed to human asexuality, what if an aro ace who dislikes kissing who never had contact with the ace community read this book, maybe they would conclude they were not really ace because Alice is really into romance and kissing and they are not?
Again, I don’t think it’s fair to put that type of educational burden on a single book. The solution is to get more aromanticism in fiction, not to force every novel with an ace protagonist to do a full Asexuality 101. Especially since that gets tiresome for ace readers who have been through a lot of Asexuality 101.
I don’t think we’re going to come to an agreement on this. Let’s move on.
I really liked the part where Alice was processing and analyzing and hair-splitting her feelings towards Takumi to figure out if maybe it was sexual attraction. That was a very ace experience. Here’s a little tidbit of that:
“So when I saw Tak- I mean, the person, I thought [it was sexual attraction] at first. They were just exceptionally cute, but then I got really hot and was having trouble thinking and there was action happening down there and I’m confused about stuff now.”
“Did you want to have sex with this person?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” She sighed. No point in holding back now. “I’m still figuring out how that’s supposed to feel.”
“Allow me to rephrase: Did you explicitly think of sexual activity in response to seeing this person?”
“No. I mean, it wasn’t like I wanted to take him to the supply closet for quickie or something.”
“What about now? Would you like to have sex with them?”
“I haven’t thought about it,” she said.
This story is definitely an example of the “When Do I Tell Them I’m Ace” trope, since much of the tension in Alice and Takumi’s relationship is driven by Alice’s hesitation to tell Takumi that she is ace. I this this bit sums up her attitude:
“Last we spoke,” he began, “you were experiencing some anxiety and uncertainty regarding your sexuality.”
“Yeah, that’s still happening. Sort of. But not really … It’s like, my problem is everyone else. I’m not ashamed or uncertain or whatever. I’m ace. It’s cool. I just don’t want to be anybody’s poster child. I’m not made for the front lines. I’ll wither and cry under pressure, so it’s better if I keep it to myself for now.”
There is so much ace content in this novel that I cannot address all of it in this review, but I think I have succeeded in giving a general sense of how asexuality is depicted in this story.
Was this written by an ace?
I don’t know.
Sara, do you like this novel?
I guess? I enjoyed reading it. I appreciate that it explores some ace experiences, and it was good for me in the sense that it is not the kind of thing I would choose to read often, so it breaks up my reading habits. However, if it were not for my interest is seeing how asexuality is presented in fiction, this would not have been my cup of tea.
LOL, Sara, we all know that your cup of tea is a really long sword opera written in Chinese, like that one you mentioned in last week’s post.
Hey, I don’t like all long sword operas written in Chinese, and there are other types of novels which are my cup of tea, such as Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. And that novel was not just about swords, in fact swords didn’t become a major element in the story until more than a thousand pages into the book.
*rolls eyes* Sure, Sara.
My personality is similar in quite a few ways to Alice, and well, certainly much more like her than your personality lol, but my way of experiencing asexuality is very different than her and I too didn’t feel represented by the novel. But it was fun in many ways to read. I wished they’d explored gray-asexuality as an option instead of dropping the thread of her seeming possibly sexually aroused by her love interest near the start of the novel… even if she had a reason for not using the label it instead was lacking acknowledgement that such a type of asexuality might be possible. That seemed to me more of an oversight than the lack of acknowledgement that some aces can be aro, because she was already 1 step away from mentioning herself questioning if she was gray-A to Feenie or something. I don’t know.
I enjoyed reading your review!
That is a very good point about the oversight of gray-A, and I wish I had mentioned that in the review too. I was also wondering if Alice was going to take on the grey-A label. Even within the small world of ace fiction, there is very little representation of grey-As, even less than for aro-aces.
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