Review: Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan

AntisocialRating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Xander Fairchild is a senior art student at Benten College and seriously mad. His sophomore year art mural was defaced by a couple of pledges to Delta Sig, a fraternity on campus. Xander makes no habit of socializing with people in general, and he’s not happy about the golden boy of Delta Sig, Skylar Stone, trying to make reparations that would be suitable to Xander. There is no acceptable repair, to Xander’s mind, and he wants nothing to do with all that mess, fraternities, or Skylar.

Skylar isn’t satisfied unless he’s pleased everyone, including his generally disapproving father, his ambitious mother, or the administration at Benten College. When Xander says he’d rather have his art destroyed than repaired, Skylar’s confused why his charm isn’t working. And, he’s captivated by both Xander and his art, which leans toward a Japanese style. In fact, it’s very much informed by Japanese manga, which is a style of story art we’d called comic book. Xander writes the campus manga, which, because there’s a lot of Japanese influence in this college’s history and founding, is a story of adventure and enlightenment and has Buddhist and Japanese themes.

Xander is an out, gay man who’s never had a boyfriend, because that would mean he had to get emotionally and physically close to someone. His closest…friend…is a genderfluid character named Zelda. This makes Xander a bit nervous, because his senior project isn’t only about his art, it’s about him advertising his show, and building an online platform to promote his “brand.” Skylar, on the other hand, dates all the beautiful people, but connects with none of them. As a business major, he’s very much capable at networking online and IRL. As a way to not only make good with Xander, but to also get close to him and his art, Skylar offers to make advertising Xander’s show a part of his senior project. It’s an offer that Xander’s advisor will not allow him to refuse.

challenge month 2017 copyIt’s hard for Xander not to be sucked into Skylar’s golden glow, but the closer he gets, the more he sees the shiny veneer that Skylar wears to keep everyone at a distance. They build a rapport that is initially founded on their mutual love of manga—and grows as each of them feels more comfortable to be more vulnerable. Xander discusses the apathy of his family, and Skylar reveals he’s not really sure about his sexuality. That he’s a gray-asexual, and it scares Skylar, who thinks he’ll never find a true partner.

For these two, the intimacy is mostly emotion based. I’m no expert on the spectrum of gray-asexual arousal. I’ve read several of these type of books; I’ve found them compelling for their emotional complexity, not their intimate moments. Skylar and Xander are able to find a level of intimacy that suits them and involves some aspects of touching, nudity, and occasional kissing. Their bond is heart oriented, and they support one another without reservation. As Skylar begins to pull away from the demands of his indifferent family, he cleaves to Xander. And Xander is unwilling to accept the scraps of interest he gets from his mother, filtered through his stepfather’s disgust. So, they make a family for themselves, including Zelda and a couple of other comrades, along with the quirky professor emeritus who owns the home where Xander rents an upstairs apartment. They have a deep connection to the Japanese influence of the college, which may be culture-appropriating, but I have many friends who absolutely adore manga, and that has acted as a gateway to further appreciation of Japanese culture. That’s a bit what I experienced in reading this book.

I loved how their support, as a couple and as a group, enabled this collected family to have a far better experience in college and life than was possible before. The end is a happy place, and Xander is far less antisocial by the end, than he was in the beginning.

I chose this book for our Judge a Book By Its Cover Week because the cover is amazing. It’s a manga of Xander (the dark haired one) and Skylar, the well-dressed golden boy dazzled by the cherry blossom petals. I absolutely love it, and the art fits the book so perfectly. It’s young and bright and playful, and that’s how Xander and Skylar are, once they commit to being friends and eventual partners.

This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack from Interlude Press that includes a signed, print copy of Not Your Villian by C.B. Lee, plus e-book copies of some of their award-winning books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize. 

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  1. This sounds intriguing, Veronica, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’ve enjoyed other books by Heidi Cullinan, so I’ll be adding this to my wishlist.

  2. Denise Dechene says:

    I have this book on my buy list. I loved the cover because it stands out from the naked man or torso books we see a lot of. (Not that I’m dissing naked men or torso cause they are hot). I appreciate the review it really makes me want to read the book.

  3. Thank you for the review. I’d heard of this book, but didn’t know much about it. I’ve never read anything of Heidi’s either. I think that I’ll have to investigate her writing further.

  4. James Escol says:

    I was really expecting a lot from this book but unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it. I DNF it, to be honest. The blurb sounds good. The cover is stunning. But, the story? Not so much. Or maybe, stories about asexuals are something that just isn’t my cup of tea.

    • I’m sorry you didn’t like it. Not sure what books are more your taste, but there are plenty others by this same author I’d recommend. And, we’re of the same mind on that cover!

  5. Unfortunately I read some reviews from a number asexual reviewers that say that this book has a hurtful representation of people of the asexual spectrum. Since i am an asexual aromantic myself, I’m not really eager to give this one a try. I know that every person taste is different, and not all aces are the same in enjoying books featuring aces, but I’m just worried that I will be disappointed with the portrayal of asexual characters here, especially when dealing with allosexual partner.

    But thank you so much for your review. The cover is indeed cute.

    • That is interesting Ami. Was it something specific or just general criticism? Just curious. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • I have also seen the negative reviews from Ace-spectrum readers, and I cannot vouch for those interpretations. For me, the intimacy described seemed sensitive to the characters’ needs. It was tentative and quiet. There aren’t scorching moments. There are moments of great vulnerability and that was what appealed to me. There are, for example, plenty of het-romance books out there that don’t work for me, and it’s disappointing. So, I can relate. I’ve read about 7 books in the past two years with Ace-spectrum MCs, they are all different, and have taught me something I didn’t expect to learn. Thank you for your comment, and I hope I didn’t offer false hope regarding the book with my review. For me, I liked it, and the tenderness of the connection between Xander and Skylar was lovely.

  6. As someone who identifies as gray asexual, I didn’t think the representation was bad. I also think there are always going to be people who disagree whenever the author isn’t an own voice. I was actually way more uncomfortable with the way the POC were portrayed than with how the sexuality was. I do agree that the ending could have been handled better though.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Thank you for your review. After reading the blurb i think i’m going to pass on this book because i don’t think this one is for me. But it was nice to see your thoughts on “Antisocial” and i’m happy that this was a 4 star read for you.

  8. I love this cover, so different from the usual and very in keeping with the book. I also loved the book. I found their relationship so satisfying. There was such kindness and respect, and it was genuinely a very healing read for me. Again, Veronica, I appreciate you making note of what some reviews may not mention. I can’t speak on the subject of cultural appropriation in this one directly, but of course it’s something to be aware of whenever we read a story from an author who’s not of that community but centers it. Just as with the asexual rep, different members of the community will feel it’s acceptable or isn’t. I do think Cullinan tried her best to be respectful of and honor everyone, but intentions won’t mean a lot in the face of someone’s hurt. I really do appreciate all she tried to do with this one, and hope people find it as wonderful of a read as you and I did.

    • >> Just as with the asexual rep, different members of the community will feel it’s acceptable or isn’t. I do think Cullinan tried her best to be respectful of and honor everyone, but intentions won’t mean a lot in the face of someone’s hurt. <<

      Very true, aces are like any other readers with different taste and different perspective when approaching stories with asexual characters. So some might say it's good and others not. But personally, I *am* a bit weary to approach asexual romance when the level of hurt that I read is pretty strong. I just don't want to get disappointed I guess. Also Cullinan is already a hit-or-miss author to me, so I have that too to consider 🙂

      • I totally understand. I’m sure you read enough to know if it was going to add to the hurt, but if you had specific questions, feel free to ask. I can definitely see where some things would be upsetting to some, it was just that nothing personally got to me. For me, even when the rep doesn’t align with my experience, if I feel like it’s respectful and knowing there is no one experience, I can just go with it. But again, I completely get why that wouldn’t be the same for everyone.

    • When I picked this one, I had NO IDEA there would be so much controversy. I just love the author and the cover. The story was mostly on-mark, for me, but that’s as a reader who’s enjoyed both Ace and Japanese-inspired fiction. I live in an area with lots of Japanese immigrants, and I’m generally attracted to the culture. I’ve got numerous Miyazaki movies in my DVD collection. A trip to Japan is on my Bucket List. So, I’m a sympathetic reader to those themes.

  9. I’ve never heard of this book but have read Heidi’s Christmas books. This one sounds like something I would really enjoy so
    I just added it to my TBR. Thanks! (I think) 🙂

  10. I like the cover I started off as an anime/manga reader before eventually just moving on to m/m romance. It sounds like fun read. It’s already on my wishlist. Thanks for the review!

  11. There’s a lot to consider here, but I am intrigued!

  12. I love the cover of this book as well, and it sounds really intriguing. Thank you for such an interesting review, Veronica

  13. Bronwyn Heeley says:

    I love this cover, have since I’ve seen it but honestly never being able to find any interest in the book itself, I can’t really say why but it’s never been something I’ve wanted to pick u and read (and I’m def a person who’d buy the book for the cover even tho I don’t really believe I’ll read it). Saying this the asexual MC has peeked my interest as I like to see a wider range of LGBTQ+ characters in my stories 

  14. I am a fan of this author, so I want to give this a try.

  15. I think this book has an interesting topic. I have read a couple of Heidi Cullinan’s books, some I loved and some I didn’t like so much. I will give this one a try.

  16. I was surprised how much I liked this boo. Heidi’s books are just about the only ones I read about college life. Normally I stay far far away from NA and YA books but it’s like she has a time machine back to my college days and how strong my emotions were about my friends and relationships.

    • It’s definitely a wild ride, for such a quiet romance. I also like her NA characters. They are mature, without being overdone, and still carry that “great big world” optimism, in many ways.

  17. This cover is so pretty! I would definitely have bought it for the cover alone. I did enjoy this story though it took me a while to get into it.

  18. I think the cover on this one is beautiful and I ended up really liking the story. I generally don’t like collage age or new adult books, but I was thinking about the story and some of the issues explored for a long time after I finished the book

  19. Purple Reader says:

    Thanks for the good review Veronica. I’ve wondered about this one and your review helps. I’ve thought it might give me a better understanding and appreciation of the gray-asexual spectrum. And I like Heidi’s historicals, so I might give this a try.

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