I have a level of discomfort with m/m romance written by cis women for cis women readers, even if it’s a book I liked and an author I liked. That discomfort is always there. Cole McCade describes himself as, “Tall, bi/queer, introverted author of a brown-ish persuasion made up of various flavors of Black, Asian, and Native American.” I didn’t feel uncomfortable reading and enjoying Just Like That. I would also like to point out that Carina Adores is a new Harlequin line that features LGBTQ+ stories and authors. I hope it’s successful and brings us many new authors.
Just Like That is a beautiful book, filled with softness, gorgeous writing, grief and yearning. I cannot speak to the queer male rep or the biracial rep, but I can say McCade captured aspects of my experiences of living with anxiety and depression with acute accuracy. Summer has an anxiety disorder and has developed coping mechanisms. He knows himself in that way that people who accept their brain issues do. McCade captured that tension between fragility and strength in the way Summer takes on the challenge of returning to his hometown and to Albin Academy as a Teaching Assistant.
While a student at Albin Academy, Summer had a crush on his Psychology teacher, Fox Iseya. When he returns as an adult to train as Fox’s replacement, he and Fox start a relationship that pushes them both out of their comfort zones. Fox’s grief for his long dead wife has morphed into a frozen, numb depression. As their friendship and romance bloom, he starts to thaw, but he has been numb so long that returning to life feels like a threat. There’s a kind of depression that doesn’t get talked about a lot and I don’t know that every person who lives with depression experiences it – the kind where you want to disappear. It’s not the same as feeling suicidal, it isn’t a desire to die, just to fade away. And yet, Fox still cares about his students, he is a source of stability for Summer, and he shows up when he needs to. Again, McCade presents a complex picture of a person living with depression.
When I read romance and I know there will be at least a Happy For Now ending, I can dive more deeply into feelings that could be traumatic for me if I weren’t promised a soft landing. McCade gets into some heavy topics and touchy subjects but centers the reader in the softness between Summer and Fox. Just Like That gave me some space to think about the ways I’ve been struggling to cope with this past year.
I received an arc from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
CW: May-December romance, Mentor/mentee relationship, workplace romance, panic attack, anxiety, depression, grief, off page death by drowning, bullying, indifferent parents.