The Death of Jane Lawrence (Book Review)

Another month, another painfully bad book club book. I love the idea of a book club, because I definitely get stuck in ruts where I keep reading my favorite authors and genres over and over again at the expense of trying anything new. But I wish my actual club could pick a book every once in a while that isn’t a giant stinker. I had high hopes for this one, too, as it’s good for nearly a hundred pages. I’ve never had a four-star read devolve into a one-star read so quickly. If you told me one writer wrote the first half and then passed it off to someone else for the second half, I would believe you; the first half is good, but the second half is one of the most convoluted messes I’ve read in a while.

What’s it about?

Jane is an independent-minded woman who arranges a marriage of convenience for herself. Her chosen husband is perfect on paper—a doctor of good means and marriageable age who requires an assistant with Jane’s logical and mathematical skillset—but Jane learns quickly that he has secrets. He lives far away from his practice, in a secluded and decrepit home that he forbids Jane from visiting. But, of course, Jane winds up at this mysterious manor and learns that in her quick marriage she may have signed on for more than she realized.

What’d I think?

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Mild/nonspecific spoilers throughout.

I was actually a little concerned before I started this book. It’s coded as horror, and I am a major scaredy cat, and I was worried that I’d have nightmares. I’m afraid of everything. I couldn’t watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid until I was in double digits. When I read Richard Wright’s Native Son in high school, I had to leave it outside my bedroom because I couldn’t sleep with it near me. Both The Prestige and Angels and Demons gave me nightmares for months, and I was a teenager when I saw them. I refused to see The King’s Speech in theatres because I knew that an R-rated movie would have R-rated ads, and I was too afraid to sit through any. It does not take much to scare me, but The Death of Jane Lawrence didn’t scare me at all. I kept expecting something to happen that would horrify me, but nothing ever did. I can’t tell if I’m relieved or disappointed because on one hand… yay, I’m glad to skip the nightmares because I’m sleeping badly enough as it is. On the other hand, if a book claims to be creepy and horrific, the world’s biggest coward should not be able to read it alone at midnight without a care in the world.

The attempts to make The Death of Jane Lawrence scary and mysterious ultimately fail because, as much gore as there is, it’s all strictly medical. When Starling describes surgical procedures as if they’re bone chillingly horrific, I rolled my eyes. The novel itself even admits that Augustine Lawrence’s actions only look horrific when stripped of context (and, let’s be real, the context is obvious even before it’s revealed). Caitlin Starling is so determined to make Jane and Augustine’s story a swoony romance that she fails to maintain any sort of interesting balance for Augustine, which means the scenes that potentially paint him as monstrous are halfhearted at best.  

I actually really liked the first half of the book. A gothic romance about an independent woman who arranges a marriage of convenience for herself only to discover that her unknown husband has unsavory secrets? Sounds cool. I love Rebecca, and Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, so I was ready for something in that vein. It seemed doubly sure that Jane Lawrence was meant as an homage of sorts to those novels when Jane learned of her husband’s first marriage and the suspicious circumstances around her death. Both Rebecca and Jane Eyre famously have mind-blowing first-wife twists, and it seemed that Starling was headed down that road. Only she wasn’t.

Continue reading

That’s My Girl! (My Favorite Character Type)

Previously, I wrote about my favorite type of character. As I was doing it, I realized that—much as I usually hate it when things are stupidly and arbitrarily split by sex—my favorite character type seems to vary depending on whether the character is a guy or a girl. Part of that, I suspect, is that certain character archetypes are so closely associated with masculinity that there just aren’t any girls who fit it exactly. Then there’s the psychological element to it. Because of the way people are socialized according to their sex, the same experience might make people react very differently. For instance, my favorite male characters are usually anxious or have low self-esteem, and that often manifests itself in irreverent humor and flash. Girls, at least in my experience, become quieter with insecurity, not louder. I also noticed that my favorite female characters often buck specific sexist tropes in media. Obviously a male character can’t subvert misogynistic tropes.

In any case, here’s what my favorite girls look like:

She knows how great she is

One of my favorite things about female characters is when they know that they’re amazing. Sadly, real women are usually socialized to play down their own achievements. We’re not always encouraged to own our awesomeness, so we often don’t. I love it when fictional girls don’t play down their badassery. Don’t like that Isabelle Lightwood is faster, stronger, more beautiful, and more deadly than you are? Deal with it. Want to go up against Sharpay Evans for musical auditions? Do so at your own risk. These women don’t have time to deal with naysayers. They have things to do and they’re going to do them brilliantly and confidently.

Isabelle from The Mortal Instruments/Shadowhunters
Sharpay from HSM

She’s feminine

Or, at least, she doesn’t look at down on femininity. There’s an insidious idea that strength is inherently masculine, and the only way for a women to be strong is to eschew anything traditionally associated with womanhood in lieu of more manly traits. When most people think of strong female characters, they think of the Strong Female Character who is Not Like Other Girls and can kick any guy’s ass because she doesn’t waste her time on girly stuff. Well, it turns out that punching stuff isn’t the only way to be strong (and plenty of girly girls can punch stuff). Girls can dress up if they want, like the color pink, and focus on quiet hobbies. Keeley Jones might have an apartment full of frilly pink pillows, but that doesn’t keep her from being a boss, and even though Evie loves fashion and makeup, she’s as loyal a friend and powerful a supporter as you could ask for. And one of my favorite recent entertainment moments is when the collective Game of Thrones fanbase realized that feminine Sansa is just as strong as masculine Arya, that there is no one way to measure strength, and that it’s possible *gasp* to support them both.

Continue reading

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World (Book Review)

In preparation for the sequel’s release, I reread Benjamin Alire Saénz’s novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I’d only read it one time previously, but I remembered it as a quietly profound novel that was both beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s always dangerous to reread books you remember as being brilliant, because it’s hard to stand up to ‘brilliant.’ Aristotle and Dante absolutely does, though. The simple, pared back prose is paired with a deeply emotional story of a conflicted young man whose complicated relationships with himself, his family, and the world around him change forever when a charming stranger offers to teach him how to swim. It’s a slam dunk of a novel. The characters are often unsure, but Saénz never is, deftly navigating the complexities of adolescence as Ari and Dante experience it. It’s painful but affirming, and while it doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of the world, it is ultimately a beautiful novel about love and hope.

That’s a lot for a sequel to stand up to, and Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World would have had a lot to live up to regardless of circumstances. Considering that the first book has found new life on #booktok after its original publication in 2012 there was extra pressure on it. I’m always a bit skeptical when an unplanned sequel comes out, and a part of me was concerned that this sequel was a cash grab inspired more by the public’s newfound interest than by the story itself.

Thankfully, that’s not the case. While I don’t think it reaches the heights of the first novel, Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World is still an excellent novel that takes the reader through the emotional wringer.

What’s it about?

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World picks up exactly where Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe lets up. While Ari and Dante are happily in love when they’re alone or with their families, the rest of the world is less welcoming. The cusp of adulthood is uncomfortable enough without the added pressures of being gay and Mexican and living under the shadow of the AIDS pandemic. As they move into their last year of high school, Ari and Dante know that their childhood is coming to a rapid close, and they have to find a way to exist in a world that isn’t built for them. 

What’d I think?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In many ways, this second book doesn’t do much to surprise. It builds very much on the themes and plotlines of the first, taking the more subtle and subtextual storylines and bringing them to the fore. Much of the story is about Ari coming to terms with his sexuality, as he had repressed it through most of Secrets of the Universe and accepted it only at the very end. Because of the story’s setting, homophobia and AIDS are major parts of the novel. It is a very intense read. Dante’s gay bashing is far from the only queer violence in this series, and it gets ramped up in Waters of the World. At times, this is a really hard book to read. There’s still a lot of homophobia in the world today, but reading this book is a harsh reminder of how bad things were not that long ago. It was jarring, to say the least, to see the f-slur printed on the page. Saénz certainly doesn’t pull any punches.  

Strictly speaking, I don’t think this book is necessary. Don’t worry: it is not the kind of sequel that makes the first book worse in retrospect. But it doesn’t really introduce anything particularly new. I don’t necessarily feel that I know Ari or Dante better now than I did after Secrets of the Universe, and I don’t think that it does anything thematically that wasn’t done more deftly the first time around. It hits a few points a bit too heavily and there’s one part in the latter half of the novel that personally I think should’ve been cut, as it seemingly adds misery for misery’s sake.   

I do, however, like that this second book expands Ari’s world. The first book is almost entirely about Ari and Dante, with Ari’s father being an important but secondary player. In book two, Ari has far more people than just his own family and Dante. His friends from the first book get significantly more pagetime, and he makes another who is even more important. His parents get subplots that transform them from just Ari’s parent’s to fully fledged characters in their own right (and Ari’s discovery of his parents as people is a major part of the story). He spends more time at school with his teachers and classmates. The first book was about Ari and Dante’s love for each other, but this book gives them—and Ari specifically—a community. In book one, Ari mostly fights the demons inside his own mind. He suffers from depression, he represses himself badly, and he can barely communicate with the people he loves most. While he hasn’t entirely overcome those issues by the second novel, here he has opened himself up to the outside world, and his biggest problems stem from it: racist discrimination, homophobic abuse, the pressures of college, and the knowledge that he can’t have the traditional happily ever after with the person he loves.

There’s a recurring motif of Ari and Dante as cartographers charting out a new world for themselves, and it is really effective. The book as a whole is effective. It is a great, great book. It is a slight disappointment only because Secrets of the Universe is so absolutely wonderful. There’s really no way a sequel can stand up to it, and that Waters of the World came so close is a major achievement.

Continue reading

Meet Cute Diary (Book Review)

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee takes a few traditional romcom tropes and makes them feel fresh by starring trans and nonbinary protagonists and by lampshading our romanticized view of romance.

What’s it about?

Noah, a young trans boy, runs a blog wherein he posts about sweet meet-cutes that will give hope to other trans people who worry that they’ll never find love. There’s one problem, though. Noah doesn’t actually collect true stories from trans submitters; the stories are all wish-fulfillment fiction of chance encounters Noah had that might’ve been been a standard meet-cute if they’d ended with romance. They didn’t. When rumors start to fly online that the Meet Cute Diary is a scam, Noah fears that it’s all over. But then the universe tosses him a lifeline in Drew, one of the guys Noah cutely met and wrote about on the Diary. Drew is a dream come true: Noah’s first boyfriend and a lifeline for the blog all in one handsome package.

What’d I think?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I picked this one up on a whim. Earlier this year I made some lists of great LGBTQ+ pride reads, and I realized that despite my efforts I haven’t done a great job of reading books by and about trans and nonbinary people. Meet Cute Diary is that, and it comes recommended by lots of authors I love—Becky Albertalli, Kacen Callender, Mason Deaver, and Aiden Thomas—so I decided that I’d give it a shot even though it ran the risk of being too romcomy for my taste.

Thankfully, it ended up being great. I’m rapidly revising my “I don’t like romance” stance to “I don’t like straight romance.” Queer romance is just better. It tends to focus more on identity than instalove, putting the focus as much on individual character development as the romantic love story. A lot of the things that are contrived for a straight romance feel more organic for a queer one. Authors have to jump through a lot of hoops to drum up the kind of drama they’re looking for when their characters are in a socially approved relationship. All those couples hiding their relationship for no reason. All that drama caused by the universe pulling the lovers apart in ways that the universe never does. Half the time the reason the lovers can’t be together is because one of them is in another relationship (with a terrible, disposable love interest, of course), and the other half of the time it’s because of some dumb miscommunication that could get cleared up in a single conversation.

Take the fake-dating plotline in Meet Cute Diary. I have railed against this particular trope before. I think it’s pretty much the dumbest thing in existence and I almost skipped Meet Cute Diary because I’m just over that. But to my surprise this is actually the second queer fake-dating book I’ve read in as many months, and both of them worked. Part of that is because both books acknowledge the trope as a thing that the characters know about and are manipulating. Noah knows what fake-dating is. He’s a romantic, and he knows how these stories end, so he’s willing to use the trope in real life because he believes that he can write himself a real-life romance as easily as if he were a movie hero. His engagement with the trope is tied to his developing understanding of romance. As he realizes that real relationships take more than a meet-cute and a pre-written list of steps, he grows out of the infatuation with the tropes he originally loved. Also, the usual fake-dating storyline—the one where both parties independently fall in love and mutually pine the whole time because no one ever talks about it—gets averted really quickly. Noah and Drew admit they’ve got real feelings for each other and the narrative moves onto bigger and better things. The fake-dating is the setup, not the whole story.

More than anything else, I think that’s the difference. When a novel plays the rom-com tropes straight, I hate it. When it plays with them, acknowledges the flaws and the ways those tropes don’t and can’t fit into the real world, they work really well. Meta fiction is great.

Continue reading

Matrix (Book Rant)

It’s books like this that make people think that all queer women and feminists are humorless misandrists.

This is one of my ranty reviews. As always, if you liked this book or aren’t in the mood for snarky negativity right now, you should skip this. I’ve got plenty of overwhelmingly positive reviews! This just isn’t one of them.

Rating: 0 out of 5.

I wanted to like Matrix by Lauren Goff—I mean, obviously; I don’t ever want to dislike something I’m reading—because its focus on a powerful and largely content lesbian counteracts the things that I often dislike about historical fiction (namely, that it either ignores minorities or focuses solely on their trauma). Unfortunately, I have rarely hated a fictional character more than Matrix’s smug, hypocritical Marie, and the style of the writing—which many reviewers have praised as the novel’s greatest achievement—only irritated me with its unnecessary floweriness and casual disregard of grammatical conventions.

Attention, authors. Forgoing quotation marks is not artsy. It’s not creative. Every amateur writing class has at least three people who think removing quotation marks from dialogue makes them seem brilliant. It doesn’t. It’s annoying, it’s common, and doing it intentionally is indistinguishable from simply not understanding correct punctuation. If you have to deviate from the usual rules of usage, do something else. At least surprise me with your intentionally bad grammar. Don’t make my response be a disappointed sigh and oh, so it’s one of these.  

Anyway…

It’s hard to imagine a book missing the mark for me more. I was actively bored and annoyed the whole time, which is never a good combo. One, I can handle. Both? Yikes. Books less than 300 pages should not feel interminably long. This novel covers a whole lifetime and yet makes it feel like nothing happens. But at the same time, too much happens. There’s a new thing happening every other paragraph, but the writing is so blandly and unnecessarily descriptive that it sounds like a sparknotes of a history textbook written by a sophomore trying way, way to hard.

Mostly, though, Marie. I hate her so much. Groff writes her—and the other characters’ reactions to her—as if she is a feminist icon who is breaking down barriers for women and creating a feminist utopia even in a world in which men have all the power. In reality, Marie is a selfish asshole who has a permanently holier-than-thou attitude and who actively tears down anyone—man or woman—she sees as a threat.

I suppose one could argue that since Marie is an abbess by the end, she is literally holier-than-thou. Except that Marie never seems to fully believe in a higher power other than herself. She claims to have visions from the Virgin Mary occasionally, but she never fully commits to her religion. The word “god” is notably never capitalized in the novel, Marie happily flaunts any religious rule she doesn’t like, and Marie enters the convent in high position because she is related to royalty (she is a bastard born of rape, but her rapist father was a king so the royal family has up put up with her). Sure, it’s possible that Marie really had all her visions and that she is truly devoted to serving Mary’s will, but it’s kinda convenient that Mary wants to dramatically increase Marie’s power and give her more comfortable quarters, right?

I don’t really want to expend a whole lot more energy thinking about Matrix, because it was just so bad (literally every member of my book club disliked it; we’ve been united in liking a book before, but we’ve never unanimously disliked something), so here’s a concise list of some of the most egregious things that Marie does to give you a picture of why I found her, and her book, so detestable:

Continue reading

That’s My Boy! (My Favorite Character Type)

Years ago, I made a post about my favorite character archetype. I’d noticed that I have the same favorite character in everything. That’s definitely still true. There’s a certain kind of character that I naturally gravitate towards, enough so that people who know me well can identify my favorite character immediately. My sister and I play a game when we start a new show together: after three or four episodes, we’ll both guess each other’s favorite character. I’m often right. She is always right. Every. Single. Time.

It’s uncomfortably easy to psychoanalyze me based on my favorites. It’s the insecure, anxious gay one! I wonder what that could mean!

The more I’ve thought about it over the years, though, I’ve realized something about my favorite characters: they’re all men. Well, they’re almost all men. This type of character, for whatever reason, is nearly always male. That’s kind of a weird thing to notice. Why do I relate so much more strongly to male characters? Does that have more to say about me or about fictional archetypes? I don’t have an answer to that, but I have discovered something interesting… My female favorites don’t fit this type.

I haven’t come across enough female (or gender nonconforming) characters that fit these criteria to know if they’d stand amongst my favorites. My favorite ladies are similar, but there is one very pronounced difference. I’ll get to that, but since this is my blog and my own space for musing and figuring things out, I’m going to look at the guys again first.

He’s a secondary player at best

Main characters are always focused on the plot. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and all that. If there’s a prophecy, the hero bears the brunt of it. If the weight of the world sits on someone’s shoulders, that person is the hero. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for spontaneity. Secondary characters, though, don’t have the responsibility to keep the plot traipsing forward. They can, of course, but they have a lot more space to do other things. Sometimes they’re there to be a sounding board. Sometimes they tell jokes to inject some levity. Maybe they’ve got a tangental plotline that fleshes out the wider world. There are certain beats that a hero has to hit (see: the hero’s journey), but the people around them can do as much or as little of that as they like. While the hero might be forced into something by fate, his friends have a choice. Frodo is given the ring and has the burden to carry it; Merry and Pippin come because they want to help out.

Merry and Pippin from The Lord of the Rings

Secondary characters also have a lot of freedom to do the unexpected, which can make them dynamic in ways that the hero usually isn’t. Most of my favorites, as you’ll see below, are loyal to a fault. That said, the secondary character doesn’t have to be. Look at Dustfinger from Inkheart. That’s a character who is every bit as complex and well-drawn as the heroes around him, but that little bit of distance from the center gives him the chance to surprise. Main POV characters can’t shock you with a surprise betrayal (or, if they do, it is only because of some very impressive writing that not all authors can pull off), and they tend to have thicker plot armor. The secondary character can operate offscreen enough to stay mysterious, and danger to them always feels a bit more tangible. Plus, they can disappear and pop back up regularly, which means that if they never outstay their welcome. I always want more of my favorites, because they’re not always around.

Dustfinger from Inkheart

And sometimes, to be honest, he doesn’t have that much going on. A sidekick doesn’t have to. Sometimes he’s just the sidekick to a more important character, existing solely to round out a cast or to make the world more fun.

He’s funny

Although he usually has lots going on beneath the surface, my favorite character is often used for comic relief. The kind of humor varies. Sometimes he’ll be hilariously sarcastic, always ready with a clever one-liner. Sometimes he’ll be a perpetual goob, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or otherwise making a fool of himself. He’s usually a bit chaotic, but however he does it, he’ll make me laugh. Seriously, how do people go for the broody hero when there’s a sassy, quick-witted sidekick right there?

If there was ever a character who perfectly embodies everything I love, it’s Jesper from Six of Crows. He’s not the main character; he’s one step removed, as the best friend of the main protagonist (and he gets bonus points for being seen as a brother; I love sibling relationships). He carries a lot of the humor in the series. When you dig beneath the surface he has as much emotional turmoil as anyone else, but even if you remove all the incredible depth and development he has, he’s still great because he’s so darn funny. The guy’s laugh-to-line ratio is incredible, and it’s all very natural.

Continue reading

Love and Other Natural Disasters (Book Review)

This battle of the romcom tropes could have been a clichéd nightmare, but thankfully Misa Sugiura writes with enough heart and nuance that she’s able to elevate Love and Other Natural Disasters far past its premise.

What’s it about?

After a humiliating rejection, Nozomi is determined to reinvent herself and have a swoonworthy summer romance. Everything seems perfect when she meets Willow, a gorgeous and newly single girl. Willow doesn’t want a new girlfriend—she’s too hung up on her ex—but a social media misunderstanding gives her the brilliant idea to create a fake relationship. Nozomi wants to date Willow for real, and she’s see some romcoms. Fake dating always ends with real dating, so Nozomi enthusiastically agrees, certain that by the end of the summer Willow will be her real girlfriend.

What’d I think?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Okay, so there are some immediate things that don’t work in this book’s favor. First of all, that title. It’s a bit oof. And then there’s the fact that this is a romance that uses both enemies-to-lovers and fake dating tropes. I know those tropes work for a lot of people, and that’s great, but I am not one of those people. I hate them. So much. Usually when I’m told that something has either one of those tropes I’m immediately out. But Misa Sugiura wrote it, and I loved It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. Also, look at this cover. It has two wlw couples on the cover, and they’re all women of color! So I went in tentatively optimistic.

Thankfully, Sugiura is better than her tropes. I hoped that she would subvert them, and the does. This is not a typical fake dating story. The narrative is very, very aware that Nozomi is Willow’s rebound even if Nozomi isn’t. We watch Nozomi make terrible decisions and as much as we might understand and empathize with her—her rejection at the start is devastating, the situation with her parents is difficult, and her conflicting feelings about her grandmother are absolutely gutwrenching—we never lack the perspective to see that she is acting in ways that are both manipulative and self-destructive.

In the real world, agreeing to fake date someone is insane, but in fiction it is something that happens all the time and is almost always a cute decision that results in true love. I have never read a fake-dating storyline where there isn’t at least a dozen better ways to solve whatever pickle they’re in. There’s a certain amount of suspending disbelief that’s required for this kind of storyline to work, and it was really exciting to see that Sugiura wasn’t asking me to suspend that disbelief. She has written a romantic comedy full of romcom tropes, but she manages to root it in the real world and to shine a light on the way these tropes might play out in there. Likewise, the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers plotline is done a lot better than the norm. Instead of there being a stupid and easily-solvable issue that kickstarts it, the original animosity is prompted by depression and grief. It’s still pretty clear the direction the story is going, but at least it’s grounded in reality and doesn’t force situations purely to hit those tropey staples.

Continue reading

I Care too Much About Fictional Relationships (Adam Groff Part II)

I was far from the only one who had a lot of thoughts about season three of Netflix’s Sex Education. It’s a great show, and the most recent season has a lot of developments. The one that most people, including me, had the strongest reaction to is the unfolding of the romance between Adam and Eric. I think we can all agree that that is not what we expected from those two.

My sister and I watched the show together long distance, and when I looked back at how many texts we sent analyzing Eric and Adam’s relationship, I decided it was time to write another of my embarrassingly long and nerdy (but surprisingly popular) essays about fictional relationships. When I actually set down to write it, though, I found myself focusing more on Adam individually than on the pair. That’s why this essay has been broken in two… it simply got too long. You can find Part I here, which is mostly about seasons one and two. This is a continuation of that earlier post, but you can start here if you only want to read about season three.

At first, I was mad at Eric. He used to be my favorite character, and by the end of season three he wasn’t anymore. In season three specifically, I find Adam to be a lot more sympathetic and much easier to relate to. My first reactions were entirely in Adam’s corner, because Adam’s confusion and internalized issues with his own sexuality are things I can really empathize with, so when a character is brushed aside because of that hesitation and shyness, I react pretty viscerally. In writing this, I did my best to approach Eric’s side of the equation with as much tact and understanding as possible. I still love Eric. He’s a fantastic character, and through the writing of this I was able to come around to his side of things a little more. I tried to keep this essay balanced, but if you notice a slight wavering in my impartiality, that’s why.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents:

Adam and his Mentors: Communication Crash Course

At the end of season two, it looks like it will be smooth sailing for Adam and Eric. Adam has come out and is liberated from his father both at home and at school. Eric has broken things off with Rahim, and Eric’s mother is onboard the new relationship. Adam is even allowed back at Moordale.

It’s not perfect, though. Adam is definitely a work in progress. For Eric’s sake, he’s trying to do better, but his bad instincts are still there. When he arrives back at school, it doesn’t take long for people to start whispering about him. There are rumors that his mom bribed the school to get him reenrolled, and his sexuality is a topic of much conversation. Adam’s first impulse is to fight anyone who talks about him, and that doesn’t go over well with Eric.

ERIC: What are you doing?

ADAM: They… they were talking about me.

ERIC: But that doesn’t mean you can hurt people. No, I… I can’t do this again.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Eric likes Adam, of course, but it’s worth noticing that even here in episode one Eric is ready to leave the relationship. For clarity’s sake, that’s a good thing here. Based on their history, Eric has forgiven a lot. Their relationship is conditional on Adam having developed past his violent bullying. Eric entered the relationship only after feeling certain that Adam had, so when Adam demonstrates that that might not be the case, Eric knows to prioritize himself and get out.

Thankfully, Adam has developed past that. He needs a bit more help to reprogram his first instincts, but he’s eager to change. Importantly, Adam is not alone anymore. He has Eric, of course, but more importantly he has Ola. As in season two, Ola is there for Adam when he needs her the most and like in season two, Ola knows exactly how to help Adam navigate the things he’s struggling with. Adam, when he’s upset and angry, wants to destroy things but Ola prompts him to open up instead, introducing Adam’s primary challenge for the season: communicating what he wants.

ADAM: Do you wanna go and smash some shit?

OLA: Or we could talk instead?

ADAM: I’m… I’m not good at talking.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Adam’s first instinct here, as it has been in the past, is to smash stuff. In season one, he was unfortunately smashing people. In season two he found the healthier outlet in the junkyard, but here Ola suggests that maybe violent smashing isn’t always the best outlet. Thus prompted, Adam admits to Ola that he’s concerned about his reputation and his masculinity; Ola tells him exactly what he needs to hear, and exactly what he needs to work on.

OLA: Of course you’re still a man. But you know, men don’t need to hit things, and men can date other men.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Ola is a treasure. She deserves more screentime of her own, but we won’t get into that now. In this Adam-centric essay, the important point is that Ola sees him and sees what is important to him. She gives him another definition of what it is to be a man, and as we’ve seen, Adam has a lot of toxic ideas hardwired into him about masculinity. Ola is offering him a healthier version, a version that is more true to him. Adam can embrace his sexuality, express himself, and communicate openly. Doing so does not make him any less of a man, and it does not make him any less masculine either. It is, however, worth noting that down the line that Adam’s more traditionally masculine presentation when compared with Eric’s flamboyant, more traditionally feminine expression eventually becomes a sticking point between them.

Now, however, Adam takes Ola’s advice to talk to Eric about how he’s feeling.

ADAM: I don’t like it when I hurt people.

ERIC: Then don’t.

ADAM: Yeah. I don’t know why I do it. I just get so angry, but I wanna change.

ERIC: Okay.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Adam is good to his word. We see the effort it takes for him to change, but he makes huge strides in the right direction immediately. The next time someone tries to mock him for being gay, he challenges them verbally rather than physically. For someone who struggles to speak, he has a pretty brilliant comeback that forces his attacker to either affirm him or cross the line into naked homophobia.

Continue reading

October 2021 Wrap-Up

I hope you all had a good October. I didn’t have a particularly eventful month. There have been some renovations at work, which has been stressful, but that’s pretty much all that’s been going on. I dressed up as Kaz, which was fun.

Here’s what I read…

Love and Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura

This was my second book by Misa Sugiura, and I loved it. Love and Other Natural Disasters has cemented Sugiura as a go-to writer for smart, nuanced, sweet lesbian romance. This book subverts many of the usual romcom tropes and turns them insto something that is somehow even more romantic, but significantly less frustrating. I think this one would appeal both to people who love romance and those who hate it, because it averts most of the things that are most irritating (and/or traditionally toxic) about romantic narratives while maintaining the feel.


Out of Love by Hazel Hayes

If you like the musical The Last Five Years, you will like Out of Love. They use a similar format to tell the story of a once-promising relationship that has fallen apart. Interestingly, like Love and Other Natural Disasters, it is a kind of anti-love-story love story. While it is about a relationship that ultimately fails and moves backwards from the breakup towards the first kiss, it is also a love letter to love. The most powerful thing about it is the way it makes a case for the beauty and power of love even when the relationship isn’t “the one.” A relationship isn’t a failure just because it ends, and that’s a beautiful sentiment.


Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

Continue reading