Trope-tastic but grounded romcom with an Ace lead.
Plot: Joy and Malcolm have been best friends since the day he introduced her to the concept of asexuality, validating feelings of otherness she’d struggled with through her youth. In fact, they’re so close it led to the death of several of his relationships. This is fine by Joy, who loves him in ways that cross the boundaries of platonic love. But now he’s found someone new, again, and this time, Joy is determined to end the games. He’d been choosing their friendship for years and it was time to choose her properly. And this new girl’s solemn friend she’s supposed to entertain while the other two run off? He’s no barrier to a woman as vibrantly extroverted as she is. Shenanigans ensue.
This is what I would classify as a cozy read. You have a collection of reasonable people who, while misbehaving on occasion, mostly mean well. The stakes are fairly low, and there is a lot of being out in nature and baking to round out the story.
The novel also uses a fair bit of time just explaining what being ace means to the audience, so if you’re curious about asexuality (and how someone who identifies as ace could be a lead in a romantic story), this book is going to give you a pretty good intro. I consider myself somewhere along that spectrum and while Joy and I would place ourselves very differently along that spectrum, I absolutely felt well represented. The issue I had with it is that the author, understandably, spends so much of the book having Joy just justifying her existence – explaining her asexuality and how it may different from that of other people along the spectrum, her experiences as a Black woman, her experiences as an Ace body-positivity influencer on Instagram, her non-heteronormative relationship with Malcolm, her growing connection with an allosexual guy, such that there is little room there for an actual story. I will say that Kann expertly weaves in discussions of relationships across the sexuality spectrum, with both Malcolm and Joy ending up finding love with allosexuals who have a lot of learning to do (which they are happy to) about what it means to be with someone queer, and not only in the context of sex. The way in which they explore what might their relationship look like, and how it can meet all of their needs – including Malcolm and Joy’s unshakable if somewhat messy love for one another.
Indeed, the platonic relationships are the real highlight in this story for me. Malcolm and Joy have some real growing to do, and in Kann’s deft hands, they navigate their baggage in a way that left me hopeful for them. I’ve definitely read many a book that dealt with the friends crossing romantic boundary lines with a hand waive. Usually, the story ends with the friendship ending, even if the romance didn’t materialize and both parties are happy with someone else. It’s a way of devaluing platonic relationships that really grinds my gears. Not here. The Romantic Agenda is deeply committed to the ethos of Love is Love, and that means all love, whatever form it takes.