After reading Love & Other Disasters, I knew I needed to read Anita Kelly’s Moonlighter’s novellas. Sing Anyway and Our Favorite Songs are so squishy and soft. They are like fresh homemade marshmallows, made with really good ingredients and not so sweet they rot your teeth. Instead of jet-puffed, they are hope-puffed.
The Moonlight Café, known to it’s patrons as Moonies, is a slightly sketchy queer bar in a mostly industrial part of Portland, Oregon with regular karaoke nights.
Sam Bell, Professor Sam Bell (they/them), has had a crush from afar on Lily for a while. Usually they are each with their own group of friends and have never directly interacted. Sam has learned that wanting people doesn’t work out well for them, so they have resigned themself to crushes. Lily lets herself be brave on karaoke nights, and when she sees Sam alone, watching her, she invites them to join her group. During the hours of karaoke, they drink, open up to each other, and sing and dance together. At Moonies, Lily grabs the spotlight, and Sam is an appreciative audience. Lily also encourages Sam to let loose. The quality of their singing and dancing is far less important than their willingness to do it.
The Moonlight Café is a space where the characters can reveal pieces of themselves they don’t feel comfortable revealing out in the world. Lily and Sam are familiar strangers who connect in this shared space, freer to be brave and vulnerable. In Our Favorite Songs, Aidan and Kai went to high school together and share a good friend, though they were never friends. Aiden felt like the weird gay kid who didn’t fit and thought Kai was a golden boy jock. They are familiar strangers in a different way.
Kai and Aiden each show up at Moonies expecting to hang out with their friend Penelope. A winter storm is blowing in and Penelope had a car wreck on the icy roads (she’s fine). Aiden reluctantly agrees to hang out with Kai for a drink and then challenges him to a game of songs. They will each pick two songs for the other to sing. As the night goes on, the song choices become more thoughtful. Aiden goes home with Kai thinking this will be one night and he’ll get his attraction to his high school nemesis out of his system. Instead, he is snowed in at Kai’s and stays another 24 hours.
Kelly imbues each of their characters with a sweetness. Sam, Lily, Aiden, and Kai are so much harder on themselves than they are on others, and that is an obstacle to future contentment and happiness. They see their love interests far more clearly than they see themselves. I love that they are such normal people with normal problems, navigating through a world that can be bruising and careless.
Content notes for Sing Anyway: dysphoria, remembered past experiences with fat phobia, brief discussion of medical procedures on pets (several characters work at a veterinary clinic).
Content notes for Our Favorite Songs: grief, off page death of parent from cancer.