There are two constants in Nick Fraser’s life: his undying affinity for romanticism and his niche as “the gay one” amongst his college friends. Yet even after several relationships, Nick learns that just wanting the romance of a lifetime isn’t enough to actually grant a lifetime of romance. The men who have come into his life have been more or less adequate…but none has been interested in pursuing the kind of devoted-to-you relationship Nick is after.
As Nick is racing across the campus of the university where he’s working towards a Ph.D., he literally bumps into someone who gives hims sweaty palms and heart palpitations. The stranger toward whom these visceral emotions are directed, however, is a woman named Katie. Nick initially disregards the rush of attraction. Obviously, a gay man would not actually be attracted to a woman; he must simply be reacting to the fact that they share connection over liking the same obscure punk-pop performers.
Yet when they randomly encounter one another days later, Nick feels the same rush towards Katie. Sharing a bus ride across town affords them a chance to get to know one another and ends with Katie inviting Nick to a indie show. When Nick actually shows up, Katie is pleasantly surprised. One night at a show turns into an all nighter spent in a secret hideaway with a great view of the Toronto skyline…and the revelation that Katie is a trans woman.
Nick isn’t exactly floored by the revelation, but he also isn’t sure how to process the information either. When Katie lays out the fact that it is not okay for Nick to explain away his attraction to Katie because Katie used to be a male, Nick realizes he has a lot of learning to do. Nevertheless, he finds he is not deterred from learning what it is to be with a trans person and Katie is patient in helping him learn how she, specifically, identifies and wants to be identified.
Nick has to come to grips with losing his identity as strictly gay, but he also has to contend with friends and family who may or may not be accepting of his new girlfriend. Together, Nick and Katie have to learn not only how to negotiate their own romantic expectations, but also how to manage breaking the expectations about Nick and about trans women as Nick brings Katie into his own circles.
Based on the blurb for this story, and later in the actual text, I know that Nick identifies as gay. When he’s running around with the bridal party for the wedding of one of his friends, these other male characters’ actions and words, as well as Nick’s internal monologue, make it clear this is his identification. The things is…the blurb isn’t actually part of the story and these college-buddy scenes are well after Nick’s figured out he’s romantically attracted to Katie. In fact, there is precious little enough in the first chunk of the book to clue the reader into the fact that Nick even is gay…so when he first meets Katie and immediately has a physical attraction response, it’s not clear to me, the reader, why this is such an odd thing for Nick.
It’s clear from the get-go that Nick and Katie have chemistry. In hindsight, I find it interesting that Nick’s crisis-of-identity as to whether or not he will or can continue to identify as “just” gay does not come during the several scenes when he and Katie are together and Nick is unaware Katie is anything but a cisgender woman, but only after Katie explains what she thought Nick already knew: that she is a trans woman.
Much of the book focuses on this dynamic of their relationship, but I loved that it was done via showing and not just telling. As a reader, I felt very included in the discussions Katie and Nick had as they learn how to be a couple. Yes, this involved a lot of instruction from Katie to Nick and Nick on the internet. Rather than coming off as preachy or as a how-to, however, it was more like an intimate look at two people learning how to nurture the spark they already felt between them. They discussed what made them feel good and not so good as people and as partners, which may be something average hetero- or homosexual just assume given prevalent archetypes.
While I’d refrain from calling this a sweeping romance, the relationship that blossoms between our two main characters is what drives the story. Their shared love of obscure bands and 80s movies brings them together and helps shape how they connect and relate to one another. At the same time, there are strong elements of showcasing non binary people in compassionate ways. Katie, who at times does resemble a the manic pixie trope, shows true emotional depth as she guides the man she wants to share a relationship with through waters he’s never explored before (but wants to for her). There’s also Nick’s asexual roommate, Tucker, who is charitable in every sense of the word and helps reinforce the idea that there is more on the spectrum that “straight” and “gay.”
If you’re looking for a book that features very human characters in very real situations but lacks overblown drama and angst, or if you enjoy what I guess society calls “chick flicks,” you’d probably enjoy this story a lot.