I’ve read quite a few of A. E. Radley’s books recently. I can happily say they are easy, breezy reads, but also interesting enough that while you can probably read this on your commute, the characters will make you want to stick around. Well, some of the characters, probably. Because the bad news is that I could barely make through one of these romantic stories without hating at least one of the women involved and wanting the other to stay alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not how romance novels are supposed to make you feel.
I picked up this book because I was at a noisy Starbucks, needed to kill a few hours while I waited for someone, and I figured this would be easier to focus on. The story, like most of Radley’s, is pretty straightforward, but also has some concerning elements that leave me doubtful of the viability of this relationship. Emilia is a recluse woman who holds the rights of her grandmother’s collection of children’s stories and Amber is an acquisition manager whose job literary depends on the renewal of these rights. Emilia is anxious and quirky, though we’re never sure if she’s also neuro-divergent or if her anxiety is vague and will soon be easily resolved (it will). Because I don’t understand fully the extent of her social skills, I honestly don’t know how mad I’m supposed to be when she lies to Amber about intending to sign the contract once they get to know each other better, gets Amber to move in with her for a couple of days, and then keeps lying to her.
We’re supposed to like Emilia, and I admit I’m prone to really liking her right away. She reminds me of the one Radley character I genuinely love, Olivia Lewis, who is on the spectrum and who usually screws up out of kindness and a lack of understanding of boundaries and social cues. Emilia has lived in isolation for an unknown amount of time, mostly avoiding people, so she has similar limitations. Except, she does know that what she’s doing is wrong and she convinces herself she should do it anyways because the ends will make the means irrelevant. And it’s a bit creepy. I know if this was a hetero couple, I would have found it unbearable.
And while Amber is mostly innocent in all of this, because she’s just trying to keep her job, it’s also true that she’s only trying to keep her job for a few weeks. She wants Emilia to believe the books will be in good hands, but she hates her boss, thinks her company is evil, and conveniently never brings up that she never intended to work on the books long-term in the first place.
Despite the glaring lack of honesty on both sides, I didn’t hate those two. I can’t root for any two characters to get together in what is clearly not the smartest arrangement, since it involves Emilia basically becoming Amber’s employer and pretending that there is not a power imbalance between the two, but they are not the worst. What is the worst is setting up a character as having some possible mental illness or neuro-divergent status and then revealing that actually they just needed some confidence and to make an effort to put themselves out there. Characters who make an effort are great. Characters who should probably see a doctor for their panic attacks suddenly being fine doing things they had a phobia of days before is probably a dangerous trope. We all change a little when we are in relationships. Sometimes, we change a lot. I don’t know that a mentally ill person can change drastically in less than a week because of a crush, and even if they do, they probably still have underlying issues that need care. Love isn’t a cure and I hate seeing that in romance books.
I appreciate that at least this book doesn’t introduce many complicated real life issues (like crippling debt) and then refuses to delve into them too much. I don’t appreciate so much that despite the many possibilities queer relationships afford us queer people, romance novels written for us still lean on plots like one of the partners being wealthy and then conveniently resolving all the other’s money issues. I appreciate that it’s a cute read for when you don’t want to think much, but really don’t appreciate characters having mental health issues that are not properly addressed or that are resolved by falling in love. I think if it wasn’t for that last bit, I would have rated the book higher, but I really wish people wouldn’t write about such serious issues so flippantly. I still recommend this book if you’re into lesfics, but I hope everyone reading it knows you can’t just cure anxiety and panic attacks by just meeting someone who will make you want to come out of your shell.