This book. It took me a while to write this because I was still reeling from how much it made me feel. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
First things first: the cover.
I love it. First of all, it’s definitely eye-catching. Secondly, it’s done in the colors of the asexual pride flag (black, grey, white, and purple) but in a way that’s not “here is a pride flag, enjoy.” Thirdly, there is an ace pun in the tagline. I repeat, there is an ace pun in the tagline. Honestly, there is nothing us asexuals love more than a good ace pun. Alright, accurate and positive representation or blanket acceptance by the LGBTQ+ community as a whole might rank a little higher, but ace puns are right up there, my dude.
Anyway, this cover is interesting and fun, and it definitely would make me want to pick up this book even if I didn’t already know it was about an ace girl. So kudos to the designer (Liz Dresner) for that.
Let’s Talk About Love is published by Swoon Reads, which is a really interesting imprint of Macmillan. They’re not the traditional agent-editor kind of deal. Instead, aspiring authors upload their manuscripts to the Swoon Reads website, and readers rate and comment on them, which helps Swoon Reads pick which books they’ll publish (knowing you’ve already got a budding fanbase of book lovers certainly takes at least a bit of the risk out of publishing a new author). Additionally, community members from the Swoon Reads site got to vote on the cover design for the book, so we also have them to thank for this super cool cover.
Now, to the actual book itself.
The protagonist—Alice—is biromantic asexual. Those words. Right there. Written on a page. Printed in black and white. In an actual book. That I bought at an actual store. (okay, maybe it was from Amazon.) I can hold this book in my hands and see those words. I think this might be the first time in my life that I’ve seen them in print (in this context, at least—asexual in its scientific form was a staple in textbooks growing up). I wasn’t expecting it to hit me that hard, but by the end of page 3, I had already seen “asexual.” (Also “pansexual,” so kudos for that, as well.) It took a little longer for “bi” which first appeared on page 8 and “biromantic” which finally came in on page 80. Seeing those words used explicitly is a powerful thing. We’re long past the days of euphemisms being needed to express any orientation other than heterosexual. And none of this Word-of-God, “oh, the author said so-and-so was X, that’s representation, right?” Real, explicitly-stated, on-the-page, clear-as-day representation. And that’s what Claire Kann gives us in Let’s Talk About Love.
Alice has just finished her freshman year of college. She’s not openly asexual and prefers to use the label of “bi” with anyone outside of her two best friends, Feenie and Ryan. This is, of course, perfectly understandable to me. Being ace myself, I know firsthand frustrating it can be sometimes to explain the concept of asexuality to someone who’s never heard of it before. Sometimes you just don’t want to deal with it, you know?
In Alice’s case, it’s more an issue of acceptance, though. She worries that people won’t believe that asexuality is a thing or that they’ll reject her solely because she has no real interest in sex. Which is definitely also something I can relate to.
Anywho, fresh out of a lengthy relationship with her now ex-roommate (can you say y i k e s?), Alice meets someone new. For the first time, she experiences something that she tentatively labels as sexual attraction, and all because of a single look from Takumi, the so-cute-he-broke-Alice’s-Cute-Code-scale, soon-to-be kindergarten teacher who just started working part-time at the same county library as Alice. This unexpected (and not altogether welcome) feeling causes Alice to have a bit of a freak out.
On top of her sexual orientation-related identity crisis, Alice is also dealing with parents who insist on her becoming a lawyer (a career she has zero interest in) and a faltering friendship with her two best friends who have been together for years and will be getting married soon, leaving Alice feeling more than a bit like a perpetual third wheel.
There are a lot of really great moments when Alice talks about her relationship to her asexuality or sex in general. But there’s one that really hit home for me. It comes when she visits a counselor for the first time and is discussing her experience being ace and dating:
“I want someone to give me flowers and take me on dates. I want to fall in love and wear a giant princess dress at my wedding. I want to have a happy ending, too, and all that other magical stuff. I want what books and TV and the world has promised me. It’s not fair that I should have to want sex to have it.” (p. 81)
I cried three times while reading this book. This was one of the times. In fact, this particular time involved me taking pictures of the text and sending them to an ace friend of mine so we could get emo about it together.
Now, onto the not-so-glowing bits. I felt like there was a bit too much happening off-page. Alice’s relationships with her parents and her siblings are interesting but ultimately left me feeling a little unfulfilled. They had the same depth to them that marked the rest of the book, but there wasn’t really enough meat to them in the text.
The epilogue at the end wasn’t really my cup of tea, either. As a rule of thumb, epilogues that involve time skips are one of my least favorite ways to end a book. Sure, there’s the occasional exception where it makes sense or does something different that makes a time skip necessary, but this book isn’t one of those. I won’t say too much about it, so as to avoid spoiling the book, but there’s a certain conflict that I would have really liked to see being worked out but was instead suddenly at least sort-of resolved in a way that left me with no real closure. Personally, I don’t think the epilogue really necessary. The final chapter did a more-than-adequate job of ending the story. It wasn’t a happily-ever-after, but those aren’t true to life and the idea doesn’t really fit with the rest of the book.
There were also a few loose ends that stuck out to me. The phone conversation between Takumi and Adam, for one. We need a seven-months-later epilogue, but we don’t get to know what Adam was saying? Another is a smaller one that isn’t as important to the plot, but I want to know what the story behind Takumi’s brother’s name. I mean, Takumi and Steven? Even Takumi admits there’s a long story there, and it’s one I’m interested in hearing (as is Alice). I think these two instances really stood out to me, in particular, because we don’t really get to know much about Takumi. I mean, we know his interests and personality, but we don’t see or even really hear much about his family or background aside from the few parts involving his nieces or the snapshots we get via photo album. All we know about his (maybe) friends is that he has an ex-girlfriend and an ex-roommate who bailed on him. It’s Alice’s story, but her relationship with Takumi is a major part of it. I just would have liked to know a bit more about him than what we got.
Overall, Let’s Talk About Love is a very honest account of what it feels like to be asexual in our current world. Sprinkled with copious pop culture references (everything from Alice dressing up as Velma Dinkley for a costume party to a more subtle Buffy reference (I see you, Glorificus the cat)), this book is fun, honest, and heart-clenchingly real. Though there were parts I didn’t love, by page 3, it had my attention, and by page 81, it had my heart. This is the book that I wish my high school self could have read. It certainly would have helped me figure out some things a hell of a lot sooner. It’s about time that we get some asexual representation in our media, and Let’s Talk About Love is definitely a step in the right direction.