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.
It’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.