Hold Me by Courtney Milan: 2/10 Stars

 

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Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

 

 

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Overall Rating: 2/10 stars

Matt’s Review: 0/5 Stars

This book was heartbreaking. And not in a good way.

I have always respected the author of this book, and I am gutted to find out that I was wrong. Utterly, utterly wrong. Because I just spent three hours being told, in no uncertain terms, that I am complete scum because I am a man.

Let’s unpick that impression, shall we?

This is a “romance”—despite everything in the design of these characters saying they should not have been going within a thousand feet of each other—between Jay and Maria. They think they’ve never met before, but initially unbeknownst to either, they’ve been talking online as flirtatious friends for almost two years.

Now let me be totally clear. Their first meeting, Jay is a complete prick. He’s rude as hell, and yes, sexist. He is utterly unlikeable from the very start and yes, he needs to unlearn a hell of a lot of lessons. He’s a dickhead and needs a punch in the face. A lot.

But here’s where the book rapidly got very, very harmful.

Maria doesn’t.

Maria doesn’t apparently need to check anything at all about the way she thinks, behaves or acts when it comes to others. In the course of this book, Maria repeatedly mocks his accent, derides him as jealous as she assumes he can’t get a date, publicly humiliates him in front of her friends, puts his youthful looks down to “Asian genes” (and thinks two of her associates ought to be friends because they’re both Chinese, and makes fun of British people all the time), plays oppression Olympics to downplay his brother’s suicide, accuses him of setting boundaries that are hurtful then refuses to tell him anything about what’s going on in her life, and sends him pepper spray—via a waiter in a restaurant—with instructions to administer it to himself.

But Jay started it by being rude when they first met, so it’s all his fault.

I wish I was exaggerating. Most of the book is devoted to why it’s all Jay’s fault and he’s a terrible person, and yet Maria gets a constant free pass to, quite frankly, be a complete prick.

This book is a discourse is why men are trash—and I would have thought someone writing a trans character might have engaged with gender on a better and more understanding level than “men are trash.” Thing is, when you write a trans character? It’s not just people with that identity who are going to read it. It’s people of all genders. Trans men are going to read this, and be told they’re scum for being men.

This might blow some tiny minds, but I never had any pushback from being perceived as a woman. Yet ever since I came out and started to be perceived as a man, there has been a hammering of the message that I am awful, terrible, scum, vile, dangerous trash. Because I am a man. I am a traitor to my fellow AFAB people because I don’t even have the common decency to be non-binary (lest we forget, women and non-binary!).

This book is a thesis in it. The only character to ever get an askance look for his racist remarks is an old white dude who never shows up again. Maria can trot out any number of questionable remarks she likes, and tell a man who has been rude at worst that he should gas himself in the eyes. She can abuse him for pushing her away, then refuse to tell him what’s happening in her life. She can emotionally manipulate him and dig deep into wounds she knows he has—but that’s fine. She’s Maria. She need never apologise, face up to her actions, or even realise what she’s done. She’s she.

But men? Men are BAD.

So is there anything left? Could I have enjoyed this story as a woman?

Still no. Jay is unlikeable until he realises Maria is his online friend, at which point he has a personality transplant and turns into the prince from Sleeping Beauty—that is to say, he becomes nothing but a cardboard cut out. He’s no more likeable, but it’s hard to hate a piece of paper so it is what it is. Maria is thoroughly unlikeable from start to finish, with no redeeming qualities that I could see whatsoever. I hated her, and just when she was winning me back, she’d go and do something else vile.

The “romance” is one of the unhealthiest relationships I’ve ever seen. If a friend of mine were in Jay’s position, I’d be sending him numbers for domestic abuse charities. Because that is where that emotionally abusive behaviour is headed, and going by his turning into cardboard at 52%, he’ll be the victim. But hey, he was sexist when they met. So he deserves every minute of it, amirite?

When a book breaks trust this badly, it raises other questions about why it is the way it is. This book has a hugely diverse cast, and it was the main reason I snagged it to review. I believed, because I trusted the author, that it was diverse for good reasons. For benign, positive, coincidental or incidental rep. But now…I don’t believe it anymore. I can’t help but wonder if Jay’s ex was name-dropped as a man called Dave so Jay would be okay with dating a trans woman. After some extremely bland love scenes, I can’t help but wonder if Maria is trans or if it’s just been glued onto an AFAB character to make the book more relevant and edgy. I would ordinarily never entertain these thoughts, and yet—and yet—

I no longer trust that isn’t the case.

In short, I hated everything about this book. Everything. The flat, abusive “romance.” The rampant sexism. The double standards. Both MCs. The sluggish pacing. Everything. I’m hurt and angry and I hope that this author never goes near a story involving gender again, because I have a horrible feeling it can only get worse.

Zero stars.

Laura’s Review: 2/5 Stars

If I were to put all my thoughts about this book into a word, it would be this one: “meh”.
I just couldn’t connect with it. I couldn’t connect with the characters or their relationship. It was easy to read, and I flew through it, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I didn’t feel like I knew Maria or Jay, at any point. They seemed to be trying too hard to be clever, and to be quirky, but none of that read as real to me. When I read a romance, I like to feel as if the characters are people I could just run across on the street or meet for coffee. These characters didn’t feel like that at all.
And this didn’t only happen with the main characters or with their conversations. It also happened with their inner monologues and with secondary characters. There was no one in this book I got to actually care about, you know?
So I can’t really tell if this is a good or a bad book, because I didn’t connect with it one way or the other. I just didn’t like hate, but I also didn’t hate it.
And this has probably been the most unhelpful review I’ve ever written. For that I apologise. I’d like to see more opinions about this book, maybe one of them would pinpoint something I missed.
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