Review: Seven Way We Lie by Riley Redgate

The cover of Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

This is yet another book I’m reading for my Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month.

What is this novel about?

It’s set at a high school in a fictional town in Kansas. It is about seven teenagers, each of whom represent one of the seven deadly sins of Christianity (Lust, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath, and Pride). As one would expect from teenagers who are metaphors for deadly sins, they each have some kind of serious problem – for example, the one who represents ‘lust’ keeps on hooking up with guys to fill the emptiness in her life left by the mother who abandoned her, and one who represents ‘sloth’ uses marijuana all the time and never does his homework, and the one who represents greed is the high school’s marijuana/beer-for-the-underaged dealer.

Anyway, the school administration gets an anonymous tip that one of the teachers is in a romantic relationship with a student, but they do not know who the teacher or the student is. That is the spark which sets this high school drama on fire.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

The teacher and the student in a romantic relationship do NOT have sex, but they do touch each other a lot, lie down together in bed, etc. – and obviously, it is a student/teacher romance. There is quite a bit of discussion of the characters sexual activities and sexual feelings, and there is on-page sexual kissing, on-page detailed making-out, and a dick pic, but no on-page sex.

As far as violence … one of the kisses in non-consensual. A student is involuntarily outed as being non-heterosexual, and there is some physical violence associated with that (as well as a ton of drama). A student drinks so much alcohol that she has to go to the hospital.

Tell me more about this novel.

There are seven point-of-view (POV) characters.

You serious? SEVEN POV CHARACTERS? And this is a standalone novel, not part of a series, so you’ve never met any of these characters before, right? How did you keep track of all of them?

Well, it did take me about a hundred pages for me to get a good handle on who all of them were. I felt like I ought to have figured out sooner that Olivia Scott and Kat Scott were twin sisters, even though the fact that they have the same last name ought to have been a big hint.

So, which of them was the ace character?

Err, can’t you want until we get to the ‘Asexuality’ section?

I MUST KNOW NOW WHICH DEADLY SIN THE ACE CHARACTER REPRESENTS!

The character who represents the deadly sin of ‘Pride’ is ace.

Now that’s just typical – of course they present the ace character as acting holier-than-thou towards all of the non-asexual characters…

Ummm, this novel is not like that.

… and I bet the ‘Lust’ character is the other non-heterosexual character…

Err, no. The pansexual character does not represent ‘Lust’, he’s the marijuana/beer dealer who represents ‘Greed’.

How about you let me get on with the review?

Fine, get on with it.

I thought this was a pretty good high school drama. It does not really feel like my experience in high school (unlike This Song Is (Not) For You), but it also did not feel as fake as a lot of the high school fiction I’ve encountered.

While Olivia Scott was not the character I liked the most, she certainly had the most colorful voice. Here are some examples:

It’d be less awkward than letting this silence stretch on longer, that’s for sure. But my voice is on lockdown, which is bizarre, given that locking down my voice is usually about as doable as locking down a rampaging rhinoceros.

I don’t want to say anything that might make him go.

Why am I invested? This is a horrible idea. Whoever invented emotions is hopefully frozen in the ninth circle of hell. They deserve it.

I think the POV I liked the most was Kat Scott. The only thing she gives a shit about is theatre – specifically, performing in an intense Russian drama in which nobody is happy. She doesn’t care about her classes, and she doesn’t want to spend time with her family, so she fills her time when she’s not occupied with theatre with play first-person shooter electronic games in which she blasts away zombies. (If you’re wondering, her deadly sin is ‘Wrath’).

Anyway who has had any contact with the high school fiction genre knows that there is a tendency to pair off characters romantically/sexually for a happy ending. Does this happen here? Yes – there is one pair who gets the sex-and-romance Happy Ending Special (except it’s too clichéd to be special). However, the other five POV characters get more interesting endings, so huzzah for that.

Is the pansexual character one of the ones who gets the Happy Ending Special?

No. And by the way, that character has a name: Lucas McCallum. You don’t have to call him “the pansexual character”.

That’s just typical.

It IS typical. But his ending isn’t tragic either. While I recognize the pattern of heterosexual characters getting the Sex-and-Romance-Happy-Ending-Special while the queer character does not, I actually prefer this to and ending in which *all the characters* get shoved into a Sex-and-Romance-Happy-Ending-Special.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this as a 2.

The ace character is Valentine Simmons. A review I read while I was deciding whether or not to read this claimed that Valentine is autistic. This is never explicitly stated in the novel, but Valentine’s character does seem autistic.

The word ‘asexual’ is never used. Instead, we get descriptions like this:

Part of me wonders what it would feel like, a kiss. I’ve never felt compelled to try putting my mouth on somebody else’s mouth. I refuse to believe it feels like a symphony of violins, or a ferociously panning camera, or an eruption of emotion in the center of my chest, or anything else it’s supposed to be.

Then, in a later scene, there is this:

“Right. You’re not into guys,” he says, disappointment settling onto his face.

Frustration mounts in my chest. He’s attractive; that’s obvious. I’ve never connected with a human being the way I have with him. And still – still … “I’m not into anyone,” I say desperately. “I don’t know if it’s because I’ve hardly had a friend, or what, but conceptualizing crushes has always been a problem, and I just – I don’t.” The words stick in my throat. I say them again, a broken record spitting broken words: “I don’t.”

There are other instances in the novel when it’s stated, in one way or another, that Valentine is not sexually/romantically interested in people. Fortunately, it’s not a source of angst or unhappiness for Valentine (with the exception of the above scene where Valentine disappoints a friend). Valentine just finds it baffling that other people make such a fuss about sex/romance.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I do. It’s not a literary masterpiece, and some parts of the novel do not entirely cohere together, but I found it an enjoyable distraction.

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Review: Clariel by Garth Nix

Cover of the Australian edition of Clariel. I like this cover better than the cover of the US edition.

So, this is another book that I’ve read for my Myster Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month.

What is this story about?

Seventeen-year-old Clariel loves being the forest around the town of Estwael, and dreams of becoming a Borderer so she can live in the forest and serve the kingdom. However, her parents bring her to Belisaere, the capital city, which to Clariel feels like a prison with too many people and not enough trees.

Clariel schemes to get away from the city as soon as possible and return to the forest around Estwael. Unfortunately, others have their own schemes, and they involve Clariel. Her parents want to arrange either an apprenticeship or marriage for her. King Orrikan III refuses to rule AND refuses to appoint a regent to rule in his place, and since his heir Princess Tathiel is missing, power-hungry people have stepped into the void – and since Clariel is a cousin of the king and one of his closest living relatives, they want to control her. And though the kingdom has been safe from ravages of necromancers and Free Magic creatures for a long time, there is now a Free Magic creature active in Belisaere itself, and it too has an interest in Clariel…

What sex and/or violence is there in this story?

There is no sex, though there are quite a few references to characters’ off-page sexual activities, as well as various expressions of sexual interest. This story never dwells in gory details, but there is definitely substantial violence in the story, including on-page murder.

Hey Sara, before you even read this book, let alone wrote this review, I know you wrote a spiel about another book in the series.

I did. Here it is:

Cover of Lirael (old US edition, not the new US edition)

I read Sabriel, the first book in the Old Kingdom series … when I was about ten or eleven years old. I read Lirael when I was about sixteen years old.

Though I did not identify as asexual when I was sixteen, and Lirael, the protagonist of Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr, is not an ace character, I really related to her, and I think it was partially because I subconsciously took her story as a metaphor for my experiences which I would later describe with the word ‘asexual’.

Lirael is born among the Clayr, a group of people who have the Sight – a limited ability to see the future (though not all futures which they see come to be). Clayr on average first develop the sight at the age of 12, though some develop it earlier, and there are rare cases where it will not develop until they are 16 years old. Developing the Sight considered a major rite of passage among the Clayr, complete with a ceremony to mark the change, and it is considered one of the top things which distinguishes a child from an adult.

Lirael, at the age of 14, still has not gotten the Sight, but all of her peers has. She believes that she is broken, that something is wrong with her. When people learn about Lirael’s distress, they tell her that she is just a late bloomer.

Is the parallel between experiencing the Sight and sexual attraction obvious yet? Is the parallel between being a Sightless adolescent Clayr and an ace clear yet?

Does Lirael ever develop the Sight? Spoiler: No. And Lirael must come to terms with the fact that she is never going to experience something which she has been taught from childhood that all Clayr experience. She must find a different path to adulthood.

When I was sixteen, I still thought of myself as a late bloomer with regards to experiencing sexual feelings, but I think I also sensed on some level that I just might never feel those feelings the way most people did.

For this reason, it made intuitive sense to me that the Old Kingdom series would have an ace protagonist at some point. At the time I wrote this, I had yet to read Clariel. However, if you are reading this, and you did not get access to this by hacking into my computer, that means that I have read Clariel by now, and that this is being incorporated into the review.

Okay, so now talk about Clariel.

Clariel is set about 600 years before Sabriel. In Sabriel, the Old Kingdom has practically fallen – it had been two hundred years since there has been a monarch, the country is overrun with Free Magic, necromancers, and their slaves summoned back from death, and the once mighty Abhorsen family is no longer powerful enough to guarantee the safety of its own children, which is why the Abhorsen sends his child to grow up in Ancelstierre, not the Old Kingdom itself. By contrast, Clariel is set during the peak of the Old Kingdom’s prosperity, when necromancy and Free Magic are so rare that even the Abhorsen is not worried about them, and the nobility looks down upon studying Charter magic because that’s something for servants to do. However, in the very overconfidence amid the prosperity of the Old Kingdom, as well as the political instability caused by the king’s refusal to take responsibility, one can see the beginnings of the decline of the Old Kingdom. In other words, if Sabriel is set after the fall of Rome, then Clariel is set during the Pax Romana.

Since this is a prequel, I think a reader who had never read any other novel in the series would have no trouble reading Clariel first.

Even though it is almost 400 pages long (in hardback), I read this in two days. I totally got sucked in.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = most asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this as a 3.

The first sign of Clariel’s (a)sexuality is this passage, early in the novel:

They had talked about solitude an self-sufficiency once, Lemmin and her niece, soon after Clariel had first chosen to lie with a young man and had found herself quite separate from the experience, and not caring one way or another about repeating the act itself or the emotional dance that went with it.

“Perhaps I don’t like men,” Clariel had said to her aunt, who was pulling garlic bulbs and delighting in her crop. “Though I can’t say I have those feelings for women, either.”

“You’re young,” Lemmin had replied, sniffing a particularly grand clump of garlic. “It’s probably too early to tell, one way or another. The most important thing is to be true to yourself, however you feel, and not try to feel or behave differently because you think you should, or someone has told you how you must feel. But do think about it. Unexamined feelings lead to all kinds of trouble.”

Clariel examined her feelings once again [a year later], and found them unchanged.

A few chapters later, it comes up again:

“I … I like to go my own way, without needing anyone else.”

“Very few people need no one else,” said Ader.

“I mean I don’t need to be with someone, married, or tied down.”

“Marriage need not be a shackling together of the unwilling,” said Mistress Ader. “But it is not impossible that you are a natural singleton.”

The term “natural singleton” appears a few times in the story. It seems to be the term that the Old Kingdom uses for adults who have no urge to for sexual or romantic relationships (in other words, aromantic asexuals, since this culture does not seem to distinguish sexual and romantic interest). I am quite happy that the Old Kingdom culture has any kind of vocabulary for people who do not experience sexual feelings, and it makes sense to me that it would not perfectly align with our own.

In a later passage, we learn more about Clariel’s sexual experience:

Clariel’s own sexual experimentation with a twenty-two-year-old Borderer the previous year had happened out of curiosity, not love, or even very much desire. She had liked Ramis well enough and he had certainly desired her, but though she had slept with him three times to be sure of what she was feeling – or not – she had not particularly cared when he was posted away, and neither had she sought out a new lover.

Throughout the novel, whenever a scene comes up in which, in general, the heroine would be expected to deal with romance or romantic feelings, Clariel essentially says “Nope. I still have no interest in this sex and romance stuff.” I like that the writer repeatedly restated it during relevant scenes, since it was a) consistent and b) really drove home the point that Clariel really has no inclination for sex or romance. One of the more interesting scenes of this type was this one:

“Thank you,” said Clariel. “I hope I do get to fly with you. You’ve been a good friend.”

Bel mumbled something and the tips of his ears turned red, the blush easy to see on his pale skin. Clariel noticed the blush and perceived she was meant to hear the mutter, no doubt a protestation about “mere friends” or something like that. Bel wanted more, obviously, but she did not. She liked his company, and he was a friend, as she judged things, proven by his actions. But she felt no passionate attraction, no giddy desire. She’d never felt that, though she’d heard enough about it from other young women in Estwael. She had always presumed it just came upon them, but she did wonder now if it might grow from a small spark of friendship. But it didn’t matter. Not now.

“A good friend,” she repeated.

“I know,” sighed Bel. “If I had a denier for every time I’ve heard ‘let’s be friends’ I’d be richer than Kelp.”

“Come on, Bel,” said Clariel, suddenly cross with him. “Denima was falling all over you. She’s prettier than me, and smarter too, I’d say.”

“I wouldn’t say so,” said Bel stiffly. “Either one.”

“I’m just not … not interested in men,” said Clariel.

“Oohh,” said Bel, blushing again.

“Or women either,” added Clariel. She felt a strong desire to slap him around the ears a bit and if he hadn’t been wounded might have done so. “Think about the situation I’m in, will you! How could I be thinking about … about kissing and bed games with everything that’s happened … that is happening?”

Bel was silent. Evidently he had no trouble thinking about such things, at any time.

There is a supporting character, Guillaine, who like Lirael, was born among the Clayr. She does have the Sight, but it is so weak that she could not fully integrate with Clayr society, so she left and moved to Belisaere. If we keep running with the metaphor ‘having the Sight is the equivalent to experiencing sexual attraction’, then Guillaine is the equivalent of a grey-asexual.

And then … there is the stuff which I’m not going to discuss because it is majorly spoilerful. Some of the thoughts which Agent Aletha has about what the story implies about asexuality/aromanticism were thoughts I had as well when I was reading the novel, though my take on it is a little different. Some ace and/or aro readers may find certain aspects of how the novel presents asexuality/aromanticism to be problematic.

In any case, I am really happy to see such a clearly ace protagonist in a bestselling series.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I LOVE this novel, issues with the presentation of asexuality/aromanticism aside. Not as much as I loved Lirael as a teenager, but this novel reminded me of how good the Old Kingdom series can be. Since I was left hungering for more, I even went back and started to re-read Sabriel, for the first time in almost twenty years. I don’t think Sabriel is as good as Clariel, but it’s better than I remembered.

Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

The cover of Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

My place in the library hold queue came up much faster than I expected, so this is the second book I’m reviewing for Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month.

What is this novella about?

Once upon a time, Nancy went through a doorway, and ended up in the Halls of the Dead. She stayed there a while, and then ended up back in her native world. Her parents send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a school for children who have returned from various magical worlds. Like most of the students, Nancy wishes she could go back to ‘her’ magical world.

Then one of the students at the school dies. Since Nancy has already been to an Underworld, death is not as disturbing to her as it is to most people. But it is not just a death. It is a murder. And a lot of people suspect that Nancy, the new girl, is the culprit.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this novella?

There is very little sexual content. There are multiple murders, as well as some gory descriptions of various acts of violence. In other words, it’s like Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Tell me more about this novella.

The premise of this story is basically “What would it be like for an Alice who had visited a Wonderland when she returns to this world? How would they be changed, and would they be able to re-adapt?” Of course, each child/teenager goes to a different ‘world’, and the story says at one point that each child is attracted to a magical world which fits them in some way.

The character I found the most enjoyable to read about, the mad scientist who went to a horror-inspired magical world, known as the Moors, and enjoys working with human bodies/corpses. Even thought most of the students consider the Moors to be, well, horrible, it suited Jack quite well. A lot of students suspect that Jack is the murderess, and Jack responds that, while she is not offended by the thought that they think she would murder someone, she is offended that they would suspect her of committing such pointless murders. Then again, I tend to like fictional characters who are … the best word to describe it is 邪, but unfortunately there is no direct equivalent of that word in English (邪 is sometimes translated into English as ‘unorthodox’ ‘evil’ ‘mischievous’ ‘demonic’, etc., but 惡 is another Chinese word for ‘evil’, and I generally enjoy reading about 惡 fictional characters less than 邪 fictional characters).

Overall, I thought this novella was a good modern extension of traditional fairy tales and children’s fantasy literature.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this as a 2.

Asexuality first comes up in this scene, when Nancy says that she is asexual:

“No. Celibacy is a choice. I’m asexual. I don’t get those feelings.” She would have thought her lack of sexual desire had been what had drawn her to the Underworld – so many people had called her a “cold fish” and said she was dead inside back when she’d been attending an ordinary high school, among ordinary teenagers, after all – except that none of the people she’d met in those gloriously haunted halls had shared her orientation. They lusted as hotly as the living did … She shook her head. “I just … I just don’t. I can appreciate how beautiful someone is, and I can be attracted to them romantically, but that’s as far as it goes with me.”

It does not come up again until much later in the story:

She didn’t mind flirting. Flirting was safe, flirting was fun; flirting was a way of interacting with her peers without anyone realizing that there was anything strange about her. She could have flirted forever. It was just the things that came after flirting that she had no interest in.

And then, a few pages later, there is this bit:

Nancy set her hand in the crook of her elbow, feeling the traitorous red creeping back into her cheeks. This was always the difficult part, back when she’d been at her old school: explaining that “asexual” and “aromantic” were different things. She liked holding hands and trading kisses. She’d had several boyfriends in elementary school, just like most of the other girls, and she had always found those practice relationships completely satisfying. It wasn’t until puberty had come along and changed the rules that she’d started pulling away in confusion and disinterest. Kade was possibly the most beautiful boy she’d ever seen. She wanted to spend hours sitting with him and talking about pointless things. She wanted to feel his hand against her skin, to know that his presence was absolute and focused entirely on her. The trouble was, it never seemed to end there, and that was as far as she was willing to go.

First of all, looking at those excerpts again, it seems that this writer seems to consider the dividing line between ‘romantic’ and ‘aromantic’ to be enjoying kissing and hand-holding. There is discussion of this trope in this comment thread.

Also, Nancy’s asexuality does fit thematically with the story. This is a story about children / young adults who travelled to magic worlds, and as a result, their families / native communities can no longer relate to them. Likewise, in these excerpts, Nancy describes how her experience as an asexual makes it hard for her to relate to her peers, and for her peers to relate to her. These theme is drawn out even more explicitly when it comes to Kade – Kade is not ace, but he is trans. His parents, on the other hand, believe they have a ‘daughter’. Just as many parents cannot accept their children the way they are after they travel to magical worlds, and are intent on fixing them so that they are like the way they were before, Kade’s parents do not accept him as a boy.

Was this written by an asexual?

No. Seanan McGuire is bisexual. Yes, Seanan McGuire is a bi demisexual.

Sara, do you like this novella?

Yes, I do like it.

Review: This Song Is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin

The cover of This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin

So, this is the first review for my Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month.

Hi Sara. What is this story about?

Two teenagers, Ramona and Sam, go to the same elite high school, and make music together. Ramona is in love with Sam, but does not tell him. Sam is in love with Ramona, but assumes that if she loved him romantically, she would have said so already, and is afraid to confess his own romantic feelings because he is afraid of ruining his friendship.

Then Ramona meets Tom. She decides immediately that they must get him to join their band. Tom does in fact click with Sam and Ramona, and their band becomes better than ever. Ramona also falls in love with Tom, even though she is still in love with Sam, and deals with being in love with two guys at the same time. She asks Tom if he will be her boyfriend, and he says yes. This makes Sam feel bad because Sam wishes he were Ramona’s boyfriend. Tom loves Ramona and wants to be her boyfriend, but his previous girlfriend broke up with him because he was not interested in having sex with her, and he’s afraid that Ramona will want to break up with him when she figures out that he is not interested in sex…

That sounds like a love triangle, Sara.

Yep.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is no sex, though there is brief descriptions of kissing and hand-holding. A character does kill goldfish (not so much because he wants the goldfish to die, as that he wants to do something which has the effect of killing goldfish).

Sara, please tell me more about this novel.

First of all, it’s set in St. Louis. Even though I have only spent a little time in St. Louis, I do think the fact that I have been to St. Louis helped me appreciate this novel a little better. It particular, it helped me visualize some of the scenes.

It’s an easy, breezy read, and it took be a little while to get engaged. It did, eventually, engage me. One thing I really like about this novel is that it captures a sense of what high school and teenagerhood felt like for me which I find missing in most fiction about high school / teenagers (another work of fiction which I feel captures this sense is the manga Flower of Life by Fumi Yoshinaga). What am I talking about exactly? A sense of creativity and adventure and the exploration of which rules are necessary and which rules are made to be broken which I associate with high school life. I certainly found the arts (not music in particular, though I definitely attended more classical music performances as a high school student than at any other time in my life) much more interesting and a part of my life as a teenager than romantic drama. I realize that most teenagers are not as artsy as I was.

I caught the metaphor of Ramona having two instruments that she is dedicated to – the piano which she started playing at the age of four, and the drums which she started playing during her last year of middle school. It’s a metaphor for her being in love with both Sam and Tom. Just as she can love and be devoted to two different musical instruments, she can love and be devoted to two different guys.

I also related a lot with this part:

I want to be educated. I want to read books at the time of my choosing … I don’t want a career, just to be able to find work when I need it.

As it so happens, I did go to college, but when I was near the end of high school, I actually gave serious consideration to the possibility of not going to college. I have never had the slightest interest in attending grad school. While I will not say that I regret getting a bachelor’s degree, I think that if I were to do it over again, I would have stopped at getting an associate’s degree and not bother with a bachelor’s degree. And after I left college, I did in fact travel at lot. I also don’t want a career, just work when I need it. Education is important to me, but I prefer to educate myself by reading lots of books and experiencing the school of life to educating myself in a classroom.

There is also, throughout the novel, examples of lyrical language.

And here is a bit which really hit me in the feels:

Twice I had screaming meltdowns because Dad wouldn’t let us go to the hospital until I’d done that day’s reading.

Mom stopped responding to treatment, but there was an experimental drug doctors wanted to try.

When I told Mom about playing piano, she didn’t respond as eagerly as she always had before. She always wanted to know how reading was going. Stressful, upsetting reader – it seemed like that was all anyone cared about anymore.

Finally, Mom and Dad told me that the doctors were moving her to hospice. Hospice wasn’t a new way of fighting cancer. The fight was over; cancer had won.

Mom was still alive, but her life was over. She’d toured Europe as a professional musician; she’d had a husband and child. It wasn’t a bad life, but it was over, and it was all she would ever have.

Yes, I know that a lot of people ‘graduate’ out of hospice care (as in, their condition improves, and it turns out they are not going to die so soon after all). I think of this as a beautiful expression of what this felt like from a child’s perspective, rather than an absolute statement that the life of anyone who goes to hospice is over.

Asexuality?

The word ‘asexual’ is never used in the novel, but it is very clear that it is a part of this novel. This is the first scene where asexuality comes up:

“But you’re gay, Tom. And that’s okay, but-”

“I’m not-”

“We need to break up.”

“I’m not gay,” I said. I put my hands on her shoulders to steady both of us. “I just don’t feel that way about anybody.”

There.

I’d said it.

I’d told Sara what I had never said aloud to anyone ever before.

“You don’t…” She frowned and shook her head.

“I’m not gay. I’m not straight. I just don’t really care about sex.”

“You don’t care. About sex.” She said it like I’d said I didn’t care about curing cancer.

“I don’t know why,” I said. I tried to gather together my years of puzzling over this and lay it all before her. “I just never developed this obsession with sex that everyone else has. It’s never interested me, and it just seems to cause everyone else a lot of trouble. But I love you, Sara. I think you’re so smart and beautiful, and I love being with you. I just don’t want to have sex with you.”

I looked at her, and she looked at me, and I hoped that she could accept me.

“No, Tom,” she said. “That’s not possible.”

“It’s true, I-”

“You need to do some thinking, Tom,” she said. It was starting to annoy me how often she was saying my name. “Everybody’s sexual. You’re in denial about something, and it’s not fair to either of us to keep up with this charade of a relationship.”

Sara, you big meanie! How dare you say something like that to a guy who all but came out to you as asexual!

HEY! The ‘Sara’ is the novel is not me, okay? There are plenty of people in the world who go by the name of ‘Sara’. Some of us are ace, and some of us tell people who all but come out as ace that they are wrong and just in denial. Do not confuse the ace!Sara people of the world with the TellAcesTheyAintAces!Sara people of the world.

Fine, back to talking about asexuality.

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this novel as a 4.

Other than that … well, it’s pretty much what the excerpt above suggests. A big part of Tom’s plotline is being afraid that Ramona is going to dump him the same way Sara dumped him once Ramona finds out that he is not sexually interested in her. Worse, he’s afraid that Ramona will tell him that something is wrong with him, just as Sara did.

Tom feels like an authentic ace character to me, with struggles that many aces have.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

YES. I liked this novel. I really liked this novel.

Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month

So, as planned, this is the last month I plan to do this ‘ace fiction from [publisher/publishing platform] month’ thing. The them for this month is:

MYSTERY GRAB BAG!

Great, so what books are you going to review?

It’s a mystery! EDIT: It’s not a mystery anymore because the month is over, and you can see a list of all of the reviews I posted this month here:

This Song Is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Clariel by Garth Nix
Kindred Spirits by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
Deadly Sweet Lies by Erica Cameron
Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth

It’s never been a mystery before.

Well, I did not quite announce it in advance for the the novel(las) I reviewed for Asexual Awareness Week in October. By even that was predictable once one saw the first few titles.

So why aren’t you announcing it in advance?

Because I want to do something different this month?

Also, though I have a pretty good idea which books I’m going to review this month, I am not entirely sure, for three reasons:

1) I am not sure how many ace fiction books I will manage to read before the end of the month.
2) There are a couple books which I suspect might have an ace content rating of ‘zero’ and if I discover it is so I want to be able to quietly not review them.
3) There is one book which I suspect I may not be able to get my hands on in time.

Aha, I get it, you put a hold on Every Heart a Doorway at the library, but you’re not sure when it will become available to borrow.

Shush! It’s supposed to be a mystery! UPDATE: I got the book much earlier than I expected.

And isn’t one of those novels which you suspect has an ace content rating of ‘zero’ a NOVEL YOU HAVE ALREADY READ???!!!

Yes. However, it has been almost twenty years since I read that novel, and when I read it I did not really have a clue about asexuality, so it is entirely possible that I completely disregarded its ace content at the time. I was really surprised when I first saw it appear on lists of ace fiction, because I thought ‘hey wait a minute, I’ve read that! I don’t remember much about it, but I read it!’ Astonishingly, even though it has been so long since I’ve read it, it was really easy to find my old copy of it, which is convenient.

Can you give us any more hints about what is in your MYSTERY GRAB BAG?

Well, there is nothing from LGBTQ+ publishers. I think it is fantastic that Less Than Three Press, Dreamspinner Press / Harmony Ink Press, and Riptide Publishing have published a significant amount of ace fiction, but right now, I am saturated with the type of ace fiction the LGBTQ+ small publishers put out, and want to read ace fiction from other kinds of publishers.

Will you FINALLY review ace fiction from a mainstream publisher?

Yes, I will. Even though I am not completely sure of the list, I can say that I will review at least one novel published by an independent publisher, at least one novel published by a mainstream publisher, and at least one self-published novel.

Is it too late to offer suggestions?

It’s almost too late? I will accept recommendations of ace fiction to read in general (not necessarily this month), and if multiple books on my tentative list fall through for whatever reason, I might pull from a suggestion to make a last-minute substitution, but … yeah.

Anyway, I look forward to the quirkiest month of ace fiction yet!

Only you would consider the month which includes mainstream fiction to be the ‘quirky’ one.

After reading a pile of ace fiction published by LGBTQ+ publishers and a self-publishing platform, yeah, the mainstream stuff starts to look like the quirky stuff.

Review: Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

The cover of Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

This is my final review for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Evie, at the beginning of her two-week visit to Toronto, ends up unintentionally auditioning to appear in the performance by a queer dance company for Toronto Pride. During the practice sessions, Evie and her partner, professional dancer Tyler, become emotionally closer. However, given that Evie is asexual, and Tyler is a heterosexual recovering from a very emotionally abusive relationship with a girlfriend who shamed him for being trans, are they compatible?

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is discussion of characters’ sex lives/histories, but no sex scenes. IIRC, there is no violence, but I will not swear to that.

Tell me more about this novel.

The bit of this novel which I remember best is:

She walked to her bag as Gigi imitated an inept Mark. “‘Bro, I’m, like, bugging. Dude, I’ve, like, never danced with a dude before.’ I swear to God, if he calls me ‘bro’ one more time, I’m going to grand jete his nuts into Lake Ontario.”

“He’s trying to be nice,” Tyler said. “That’s how straight guys act when they want to be friends.”

“How the fuck would you know?”

Tyler exhaled sharply. “Jesus, Gigi. Who the hell tied your panties in a knot?” Tension filled the room as the two men stared each other down.

Bloody hell.

The context of course is that Tyler is a straight man. He is ‘eligible’ for belonging to a ‘queer’ dance company because he is trans, not because of his sexual orientation (and he does say in the novel that he would rather that dance companies did not cast him just so that they can tick off the ‘trans’ box, but he’ll take professional opportunities where he can take them).

This is also the first work of fiction I have read (IIRC) in a contemporary setting where the trans character’s family is very supporting of the character’s transition, and even though they don’t understand everything, they sincerely try to do what is best for him.

Generally, though, this novel felt like it was a series of scenes put in chronological order rather than a story. Okay, I know the overall story was about how Evie and Tyler get together but … they simply seemed so compatible, and the ‘obstacles’ to their getting together just seemed false to me. I mean come on, Tyler does not know that Evie is planning to return to Toronto for school because when she said so he did not hear it / forgot about it, even though everybody else present remembered it. Seriously?

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = most asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this as a 5.

First of all, Evie is asexual. Tyler has to get some idea of what being asexual means to Evie, just as Evie has to get some idea of what being a trans man means to Tyler.

Evie states that she has had sex before, and that even though she does not seek sex, she does not mind doing it sometimes.

This novel is also one of the more notable instances of the Ace Group trope. Evie is an ace who is active on Tumblr, and she met her host, Sarah (who is gaybeard-the-great, a Tumblr user mentioned in Blank Spaces) via the ace Tumblr network. There is a meetup of Tumblr aces in Toronto during the novel, and someone at the meetup tells Evie that she is doing it wrong because she has not come out to her family as ace.

Vaughn, the ace protagonist from Blank Spaces, is also a significant supporting character in this novel. He gives Tyler a reason to feel insecure/jealous, because he clearly gets along well with Evie, and Tyler is afraid that, because Vaughn is asexual, Evie is going to prefer going out with him than going out with himself.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Cass Lennox is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I definitely like parts of it but … after reading Blank Spaces, I had high expectations, so I was so I was disappointed to find that this novel is less cohesive and tightly written. Do I like this novel? Yes and no.

Review: Far From Home by Lorelie Brown

The cover of Far From Home by Lorelie Brown

This is the penultimate review for my Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Rachel is recovering from anorexia and also has a pile of student loans burdening her finances. Pari is a lesbian from Tamil Nadu who wants a green card (she would rather have U.S. citizenship, but she will settle for a green card). In order to get a green card, Pari needs to be married to a U.S. citizen for at least two years, and it has to look like it is a marriage based on feelings rather than, say, trying to get a green card. So many people know that Pari is a lesbian that the INS will be suspicious if she marries a man, but since her romantic/sexual relationships have generally been unstable, she does not trust a marriage to another lesbian to last two years. Thus, the solution for her is to marry a straight woman who has an entirely nonromantic reason to stick with her for years. And as it so happens, Pari can help Rachel with her ongoing student loan debt.

Of course, this is all based on the assumption that Rachel is straight. Which she is, of course, because she has only had sexual relations with men, even though she was never very into sex with men, and she hasn’t had any sexual relationship for years. Yeah, Rachel is even more heterosexual than Heterosexual Jill.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There are long very detailed sex scenes in this story. IIRC, there is no violence.

Tell me more about this novel.

Yeah, it’s one of those stories where a marriage of convenience conveniently turns into a marriage based on romance. As such, I did not feel it was particularly skillful. Okay, yes, demisexuality is a plausible mechanism for how someone who is not sexually attracted to someone else at first becomes very sexually attracted to them later. It was Pari’s side of the equation which I had trouble buying – though we are told that Pari does not want to marry a lesbian because she wants to avoid romantic/sexual drama in her marriage, I don’t know … it felt like the writer was forcing the character’s behavior. I think that it would have been more convincing if we had actually met one of Pari’s ex-girlfriends, and if the story had shown why the relationship was so dysfunctional that Pari would want to avoid sex/romance in a marriage.

Generally, I thought there were many parts of the story, not just the motivation for Pari pursuing marriage the way she does, which were not sufficiently developed. And generally, things work out too conveniently for the characters – rather than overcoming obstacles, the obstacles generally just disappear for a while.

My favorite part of the story was Pari’s mother, Niharika. I don’t know enough about Tamil culture to know how plausible Niharika’s behavior is, but this is one of my favorite bits of the story:

“When will the wedding be?” Niharika crosses her arms over her chest and asks with an extra handful of displeasure sprinkled over the top.

Pari squeezes my hand, and I can feel my hope as if it were a radio wave between them. “We aren’t going to make a big deal of it. We’re meeting at the courthouse on Wednesday.”

“No! Absolutely not.” Niharika slashes a hand through the air so decisively that the camera wavers. “Already this will be . . .” She lets the sentence fade, and I breathe a sigh of relief for Pari’s heart. There are only so many words that a daughter’s feelings can ignore. “You will have a real marriage.”

“A traditional wedding?” Pari seems doubtful. “I don’t think that’s wise.”

“You would ignore even more of our traditions?”

Yes, Niharika thinks that her daughter getting married in a courthouse instead of having a traditional Tamil wedding is even more scandalous than her daughter marrying a woman. From her perspective, it’s bad enough that ‘America’ made her daughter want to marry a woman, but foregoing the traditional wedding would be taking things too far. Therefore, Pari is going to have a traditional Tamil same-sex wedding.

Niharika’s wedding preparations are generally entertaining. There is also this bit:

“And red,” Niharika adds. “We must have red. It’s for fertility.”

Pari rolls her eyes, but only facing me, where her mother can’t see it. “We’re two women. Fertility is going to be difficult.”

“You have double the fertility.” She nods decisively, as if this is how she’s come to grips with the concept of her daughter, the lesbian. “It’s good luck.”

I also could not help but notice that Pari’s aunt is called Aishwarya. The only Tamil movie I have ever seen (yep, I’ve only seen one Tamil movie, which gives you an idea of just how shallow my knowledge of Tamil culture is) is Kandukondain Kandukondain, which stars Aishwayra Rai. I wonder whether the writer named the aunt specifically after Aishwarya Rai, or whether Aishwarya is simply a common Tamil name.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this story as a 2.

This is the key passage:

“Damn right.” Nikki spins again. “Do you ever see anyone, boy or girl, walking down the street and think, ‘Gee, I’d like to bone them’?”

“Thanks for that descriptive phrase, but no. I don’t.” I bounce my knees. “I think my sex drive is defective.”

“It’s not defective to be demisexual,” Skylar offers.

“What?” I sit up. “What is that?”

She stops what she’s doing with the autoclave and looks at Nikki. “I thought you were going to talk to her?”

“What?” Nikki’s eyes are big, and she throws her hands up. “It’s not my job to be her sexual counselor.”

“Um, yes, it is.” I wish I had something to throw at her. Just like pillow level or something though. I’m annoyed, but not murderous. “It’s in the ‘best friend’ description.”

“I missed the description. Was that in a memo?”

“It was carved on the back of the locket I gave you. You know, the one that was half a heart?”
“Didn’t happen. You’re making things up again.”

“Maybe.” I look at Skylar instead. “What is a demisexual?”

“It’s a descriptor. Like queer or bi, except this one means on the sexual to asexual spectrum. You’re somewhere closer to asexual, but not all the way there. Demisexuals usually only want a sexual relationship with someone they already have an emotional connection with.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Totally isn’t,” Nikki says. “And I didn’t tell you because it’s just a word. You do you, ya know? But it seems like maybe that’s you. I mean, I can’t remember you ever just locking eyes with anyone and thinking they’re droolworthy.”

“No, that doesn’t sound like me.” Part of that’s because I start worrying that sex would mean them seeing me at my ickiest, though.

So here is the Allo Savior Complex again, though at least in this example Nikki is pushing back against Skylar taking it upon herself to label someone else.

Rachel’s discomfort with sex is tied with her experiences with anorexia. I’m no expert on anorexia, but it makes sense to me that it would be difficult to sort out whether her lack of inclination can be attributed to anorexia, and what can be attributed to possibly being under the ace umbrella.

However, like other parts of the story, I felt the demisexual storyline was underdeveloped.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I like the scenes with Niharika, but other than that, this novel is a solid ‘meh’ for me.