Heat Factor: We’ve got some dildo action!
Character Chemistry: It’s pretty insta.
Plot: Summer is trying to stop gentrification; Aiko works for a developer. Even though they’re on opposite sides of a proposed building project, they can’t help wanting to date.
Overall: This book made me irrationally angry.
I must acknowledge that my response to this book was not entirely rational. It was a situation where one small thing irritated me, which then resulted in me reading more critically than was perhaps warranted, which in turn resulted in me noticing more things to be irritated about. On the other hand, there were some craft choices that the author made which I may not have picked up on if I weren’t irritated, but which I argue make this a weaker book.
Let’s start with the small stuff. This book takes place in Austin. I happen to live in Austin. This book is also very detail-heavy. And not all the details are…quite right. For example. In an early chapter, Aiko is tweaking the landscape design for the project she’s working on. It involves a lot of azaleas. I have seen literally zero places landscaped with azaleas in Austin; azaleas need a lot of water and it is dry here in the summer. Like no rain from June to October dry. Now, I’m not saying that no one plants azaleas, because I’m sure they do. Rather, I’m saying that a company that’s building a green building would probably be xeriscaping. It threw me out of the scene and made me start looking for other inaccuracies.
I feel petty writing it out. It’s a small thing, but it felt wrong. And when the little details are off, it makes me question the bigger things. Especially since it wasn’t just the azaleas.
I do not want to imply that Alexander did not do her homework. On the contrary, she includes a lot of incredibly specific details about the places the characters go, the routes they take to get there, what they order, and how it tastes. The vast majority of these places are real. (Side note: there was a scene where they are getting a “light pizza lunch” at a place known for Detroit style pizza and I rage screamed, but I later looked up the menu and the specific pie they order is actually thin crust, so mea culpa on that one. This side note should indicate the level of detail we have going on in this book. Be prepared to crave takeout.)
So let’s talk about how this snowballed. There’s a scene where Summer is buying ice cream with her dad, and gets annoyed when the young woman scooping the cones calls her “ma’am” because that word should only be used for older women. However. Summer is a 30 year old Black woman; the other woman is 20, white, and a food-service worker. Calling Summer “miss” would not be appropriate. I double-checked with a Texas native friend to see if I was missing something and she agreed with me. But because of the azalea scene I’m questioning things. Am I misunderstanding some element of the racial dynamic here? Is the author just wrong? Is Summer in denial about her age? Is Summer just looking for something to be mad about because the ice cream truck is a gentrifying invader in her old neighborhood? There aren’t a lot of context clues about how I should understand this interaction. The details are about the sensory surroundings, not about the main characters’ state of mind.
And then it snowballed again, and this is where the craft decisions come in. (Spoilers ahead.)
Ok, so Summer moves back to Austin and discovers that her old high school (a charter school founded by her grandmother) is being demolished to build a mixed use development. Summer decides this is unacceptable and goes straight into protest mode. However. I couldn’t help but think that Summer was completely unreasonable. The school had closed ten years previously. The building was dilapidated. The time to try to save the building was, I don’t know, before the developer bought it? Five years ago? During the permitting process, which would have involved a public session?
Part of my frustration with this fight was in the details. Like the building is 46 years old but also educated Black kids during Jim Crow, and that math doesn’t square. Part of my frustration was with Summer, who lives in a fancy apartment downtown (which as described is probably $4K a month) but also thinks all development is bad. And I also think she shouldn’t protest the architecture firm, but rather the owner of the property (who made the decision to tear down the school in the first place).
Now here is the spoiler. Summer’s growth moment is her realization that she was actually being unreasonable and that she’s acting out of a sense of guilt. But before Summer has her ah-ha moment, the text never indicates that Summer was in the wrong. Rather it seemed to insist that both Aiko and Summer needed to compromise or rethink their positions on the new development. No one that Summer talked to was like, “Let’s think about this.” (People tell both Aiko and Summer that dating while on opposing sides of the building fight will be challenging.) So I spent the whole book being annoyed with Summer only to be proven right in my opinion in the end, but honestly I felt blindsided. There had been no breadcrumbs left for me as a reader that one party was going to need to apologize for her actions throughout the whole book.
Now, how did all of this impact the romance? Well, the way it plays out is both Aiko and Summer feel an instant connection and want to keep dating despite their disagreement. So while the development drama does cause the Big Fight, for the most part the two pieces are kind of…separate? Like even though I was really annoyed with Summer, I still bought the attraction between the women. And they did go on some cute dates. And Summer’s apology does make up for her bad behavior.
I’ll be honest. I can’t say I much enjoyed this one. But if an inaccurate detail here or there doesn’t send you into a spiral of criticism, the final stance on gentrification is pretty interesting.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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