Cutie Codes and Ace Rep: My Let's Talk About Love Review

I'm not usually one for contemporary romance, but since I was feeling beaten down by life in general, I was in dire need of a lighter, fluffier read. I decided to pick up a book that's been on my TBR for a while -- Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann -- and oh my goodness, you guys need to get this book NOW!

I will now attempt to explain why.

Book Title: Let's Talk About Love
Author: Claire Kann
Publisher/Year: Swoon Reads, 2018
Genre: Romance
Number of Pages (According to Goodreads): 304
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book description (from Goodreads):

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting—working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she's asexual). Alice is done with dating—no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.
But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).
When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

I know what some of you are probably thinking: how the heck can you have a romance with an asexual protagonist? Turns out, it's very easy, but it involves dismantling some preconceived notions we might have about what romance means.

(Note: asexuality, which is a lack of sexual attraction, is not the same thing as being aromantic, or lacking romantic attraction. Some asexual people are also aromantic, but not all!)

Let's Talk About Lo ... I Mean, the Representation

When you Google "asexual YA fiction," you don't get all that many results -- especially results for which the actual protagonist is asexual. One of the top results, of course, is this book.

With so few other books about asexual people and their experiences, Let's Talk About Love has a huge burden to carry: conveying an authentic experience of asexuality when many people don't even know what asexuality is. I could probably write a whole thesis on how this book handles this extremely underrepresented marginalized identity, but suffice to say, I think it does it brilliantly.

Alice's struggle with her sexuality came across to me as very genuine. Even though she's pretty confident in her identity from the start, she goes through periods of being unsure about exactly what asexuality means to her, and there's a gut-wrenching thread throughout the story where she worries about whether the object of her affections, Takumi, won't want to date her anymore when he finds out she's asexual.

Importantly, Alice doesn't fall into the stereotypes of asexual people being robotic, unfeeling, or prudish. She's an extremely warm, vibrant person who loves cuddles, romantic getaways, and all the cute things.

While Alice doesn't experience sexual attraction, she adores romance, and has a scale called the "Cutie Code" where she ranks things and people based on how cute they are. In case you were wondering, Takumi is Cutie Code Black, because he breaks the scale <3

However, the stereotypes about asexual people still affect Alice in a very tangible way. At one point, she details how she was known as "the Corpse" in high school because she froze up at her then-boyfriend's sexual advances -- a gut-punch detail that shows just how unfair and harmful the stereotypes about asexual people really are, and how aphobia (discrimination against asexual and/or aromantic people) is bound up in the issues of consent and rape culture.

I want to note that, while the representation in this book is definitely important, it only explores one person's experience of what it means to be asexual -- and specifically, one person's experience of what it means to be a Black biromantic asexual woman.

When there are so few books with asexual rep, it's easy to hold up That One Asexual Book as the gold standard for what being asexual in fiction "should" look like, but it's important to remember that this is only one perspective.

One of the Strongest Areas is ... Not the Romance?

Don't get me wrong, the romance between Alice and Takumi is super sweet (and there's a scene where she tends to him while he's sick ... *melts into a sappy puddle*). However, the story also deals with Alice navigating the other relationships in her life -- both with her parents and with her best friends, Feenie and Ryan.

I loved how complex all the characters were. Alice is kind and sweet, but she also has impulsive tendencies, and her character arc is focused on working out how to improve her relationships with others. Feenie is fiercely loyal to Alice, but she's also dealing with her own issues, and tends to get defensive when Alice calls her out for hurting her.

Yes, this book is a romance, but I thought it was also a good look at how people's relationships can evolve during times of change. Alice is a rising college sophomore, which means that she and her friends are trying to work out who they are as independent adults.

All this extra depth makes Let's Talk About Love feel like a multidimensional and nuanced look at Alice's coming-of-age experience.

How Dare This Book Make Me Cry!

While a large portion of this story was pure enjoyable fluff, it gets super real at times, especially toward the end when Alice starts worrying about how she's going to tell Takumi she wants him to be her boyfriend while also letting him know she doesn't want sex.

I'm not going to spoil anything, but I was honestly a wreck for the last several chapters or so. Full disclosure: I'm not asexual (at least, not completely, like Alice is), but her fears came across as very raw and real to me. The conclusion didn't tie everything up in a nice, pretty bow, but it felt like a satisfying ending to this stage of Alice's self-discovery, and left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Final Thoughts

At first glance, it seems that the most obvious people to recommend this book to are asexual people who want to see themselves represented, as well as people who want to understand more about asexuality. However, I'd caution against treating a fictional story about one specific asexual person as some kind of field guide to a complex marginalized identity.

In short: read this book if you want a cute romance which explores what a romantic asexual relationship might look like. However, if you also want to learn more about asexuality in general, The Trevor Project and AVEN have plenty of great resources on the subject.

Let's Talk About Love is available wherever books are sold, so if you want to swipe a copy of your own, check out these links!

Want more bookish tea like this? Join my newsletter, the Loose Leaf List, to get more reviews, opinions, features, and other fun stuff delivered directly to your inbox once a month!

No comments

Post a comment