Mal Copol knows who they are: Nonbinary. Awesome. Exhausted. They won’t change for anyone, but just once, they’d like to be the one with relationship potential, not the hookup. Also, not having to fight employers on who they are and how they present themselves would be nice. And while they’re at it, add not getting raised eyebrows at their high heels and tasteful makeup while discussing their latest rock-climbing trip to the wish list. Is that really too much to ask?
“Here I am at twenty-seven, embarking on life, version 2.0.”
Parker McWilliams is breaking free from the constraints of his former life and wife. He’s recapturing his zest to try new things and experience everything to the fullest, instead of the complacency he had fallen into over the past nine years. If one of those “new experiences” happens to be with a certain beautiful and intriguing nonbinary person, well, Parker’s just going to roll with it. Anything contrary to his past life is a good thing.
Mal and Parker keep surprising each other every time they meet. Despite their differences, neither has any interest in fighting their attraction. But when circumstances threaten to keep them apart, the couple must decide if that attraction is enough to overcome the obstacles they face.
Overall Rating: 5/10 stars
Matt’s Review: 2/5 Stars
I don’t really know how to review this book. The notes I made are mainly negative, and I feel like I should dislike this book more than I do. But at the same time, I don’t feel like it’s left much of an impact. It feels like a book, and the sort of quick book that you read to kill time. Because of that, what should have enraged me was merely irritating, and it was all quickly forgotten.
So what is there to say? The plot is a fairly straightforward get-together romance between Parker, a cisgender former frat boy, and Mal, a non-binary graphic designer. In its favour, Mal’s gender identity is treated quite well. The trans 101 talk with Parker wasn’t the usual infodump or deluge that many books go into, there was a nice interplay between sex, gender, and sexuality, and it wasn’t made out to be a huge deal. There aren’t many AMAB non-binary folks in fiction, and it was refreshing to see Mal portrayed the way they were.
As I read, though, I came to realise that the main problem with the book is that nobody stops to feel anything. Mal is fired from their job for being non-binary, but it never really seems to impact them. The story just rolls on, and it felt unnecessary. Parker finds out his mum has Alzheimer’s, and more or less immediately starts focusing on how this is going to affect his life and his new relationship with Mal, rather than having much in the way of an emotional reaction to the slow loss of a parent. There’s no real response to events. They happen, the chapter ends, then the next one begins and something else happens. It felt oddly hollow. For a romance, this book doesn’t have much soul.
The other problem was Parker. I loathed Parker. I couldn’t stand the smug, selfish little—well, yeah, I didn’t like him. Right from the word go, he tells the reader over and over that his ex-wife is an evil bitch, but the reason? She had different goals than him. She nagged him. She pushed him to get a high-paying job so they could buy a house and have a family. And I’m like…okay, what’s so evil about that? Does it really make her a bitch to have different goals? Then Parker reveals he left her within a month of her miscarrying their first child.
Yeah. Maybe—just throwing this out there—but maybe that’s why she hates your guts now, buddy?
The thing is, she doesn’t actually turn up on-page until the last quarter of the story, and by the time she does, I was so sick of Parker telling me that she’s a bitch with zero evidence (and really, all the evidence pointing to him being much worse than her) that when she did show up, she was a caricature, not a real person. She’s presented as a greedy, money-grubbing homophobe out to rinse him in the divorce and too stupid to understand the law. In effect, she’s a silly little girl throwing a tantrum. That’s it. That’s all the depth to her. It was lazy and insulting, and I ended up hating Parker rather than feeling sorry for him.
Parker also hates his father for…reasons. I don’t really know why. He’s supposed to be a manipulative jerk, I think? But anyway. This all boils over when Mum is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Dad asks Parker to move back in to help take care of her, as Dad is still working and will need a hand.
Honesty time. This happened to me. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and I moved back into the family home to help care for her until she died. That disease destroyed her. It stripped all of her humanity away from her, and it was the most horrific thing I have ever witnessed. I know what it feels like to put your life on hold as a carer. I know what it’s like for everything to stop and to give up all your plans, hopes, dreams and relationships to return to the nest and watch a parent dissolve right in front of you, with nothing you can do to stop it. I know what it’s like to resent it, to wish it would end, to wish there was another way, even as there’s nothing that could make you turn your back. I didn’t even like my mother—there was a deep and mutual hatred for my entire life between us—but I did it anyway. She was a human being who needed her family, so we were there.
So Parker’s response infuriated me. His reaction was the most selfish crap I’ve ever seen. He decides that his dad is just manipulating him to move back in and re-establish control over Parker’s life. He decides that looking after Mum is Dad’s job, so Parker is going to stay in Colorado with Mal and pursue his dreams instead. Dad can just retire. He’s wealthy enough. They’ll be fine.
Yeah. Romantic hero!
So yeah given that I hated one of the romance leads, this was never going to work for me. Maybe you’ll have a different take on Parker and his…reasons, but there’s definitely better love interests out there, or even within this story. That said, it was generally written fine and it was an easy to read style, so I wouldn’t necessarily pass on this author again with a different book. And a different love interest!
Laura’s Review: 3/5 Stars
I liked this one. It was sweet, and I love sweet. I really liked both Mal and Parker, and I enjoyed seeing their relationship develop. While it was fast, it made sense for who they were as characters and within the story. They had conversations, they had sex, they thought about each other. Them being together just made sense in the end. And that’s important in a romance because, if you’re not rooting for the main characters to get together, what’s the point?
I liked that there was no big coming out moment, since Parker already knows Mal is nonbinary, and while they do have a conversation about what that means for Mal, there wasn’t one big infodump either. Anything else would have just felt preachy.
Why three stars, then? Well, there are a few reasons:
First, in my opinion, the prologue was completely unnecessary. We don’t need to see Mal looking at themselves naked in the mirror, or trying on a dress. We really don’t need to see their father’s reaction. All of that could have been said within the story without a need for that prologue. It was said within the story, in fact.
Second, for a book that did a really good job with nonbinary representation, some expressions and sentences did grate me. The use of “male” and “female”, ot that particular scene when Parker is wondering if it is only Mal that does it for him or more “bodies of the no-vagina persuasion” would, too. I couldn’t really tell from Parker’s thinking if he was talking about being attracted to what would be a cis man’s body, or to men. That could have been worded better, and more carefully. Because as it stands, it erases trans men and a lot of nonbinary people in one simple sentence.
And there was this throwaway sentence about “all men being awful”. And I get it, I get where it’s coming from, I know the person saying it probably doesn’t mean “all men”, but trans men have been telling us, time and time again, how harmful that particular phrasing is for them, and it would have been so easy not to include.
And then there were the women in this story. Apart from Mal’s mother, and her boyfriend, all of them at one point or another have hurt the MCs. Parker’s ex-wife is the “evil ex-wife” trope I really hate. Parker’s mother has early on-set Alzheimer, and I find it sad that Parker only gets to know a supportive mother when she’s forgetting who she is, and who Parker is. And then there’s Parker aunt, who actually comes to Mal’s house with a pastor to call them abominations and ask them to repent or go to hell. And honestly? I’m tired of bigots always being linked to religion. There are plenty of bigots who aren’t religious and plenty religious people who aren’t bigots. But in a quite a lot of books, you can bet the bigots are going to be excusing themselves on religion. I’m not even religious myself and I’m tired of seeing that.
Well, those were a lot of words. Even after all that, I enjoyed this book. Honestly those things, especially my last point, were things I mostly took note of when I was writing down my thoughts for the review. This was a likeable story, and I think it does a great job showing who Mal is.