Jordan O’Neill is a gay, geeky, introverted librarian. And now to add to the list, he thinks he may be asexual. The idea is starting to make sense to Jordan, but he is still not totally sure. But when his friend Merry drags Jordan to an asexual support group, suddenly Jordan begins to recognize this new label may be the perfect fit. Not only that, but the group leader is none other than the super hot guy who rides Jordan’s bus that he has been crushing on hard.
After a bad break up, Hennessy Lang moved to a new city and has started over. He has long known he is asexual, but he hasn’t had much luck dating as most guys seem to be just waiting for him to “change his mind” about sex. When Hennessy meets Jordan, he is charmed by him, despite Jordan’s nervousness and babbling.
Now that they have officially met, the guys end up chatting each day during the shared portion of their bus route (much to the delight of their fellow passengers). Soon Jordan and Hennessy begin going on dates and start to fall for one another. But Jordan is just getting used to what being asexual means for him, and he needs to be open with Hennessy despite his fears. But if the guys can communicate with one another, they have a chance for something really special between them.
Upside Down is a charming, funny story with a lot of heart. N.R. Walker does a wonderful job both building the relationship between Jordan and Hennessy, as well as exploring Jordan’s growing understanding of his own asexuality.
From a relationship end, these guys are so great together. There is a meet cute element here as Jordan has been crushing on the man he calls “Headphones Guy” on the bus, a man who is so engrossed in whatever he is listening to he never notices Jordan, but who Jordan hasn’t been able to stop thinking about. But Jordan is way too nervous to even consider talking to him until suddenly they end up at the same support group meeting. I loved watching their delight as they realize all the things they have in common. These men see each other in a way that few others do and it is so rewarding to see how much it means to them both to have someone understand them and connect with them.
There is an interesting, episodic style to the book as much of the early story follows these guys during their daily encounters on the bus. They only have about five minutes together each time, so it is charming watching them to get know one another in these little snippets of time they have together. (Also charming are the fellow passengers who become totally engaged in the developing relationship and can’t help but offer advice and support.) Jordan is one of those nervous babblers and most of the time as he is getting to know Hennessy he can’t help but spew out constant crazy rambling, which horrifies Jordan but entertains Hennessy. At times, the pacing here feels a little frenetic as between Jordan’s babbling and the short snippets of scenes where they are together, the pacing is kind of fast and intense. But it settles down as the guys get to know one another and Jordan gains more confidence.
Aside from the relationship, the central focus of the story is Jordan’s growing understanding and acceptance of his asexuality. He has long suspected he may be asexual, but was not quite ready to accept it. As someone who has been out longer, as well as a group leader, Hennessy is able to support Jordan as he figures himself out and what all this means for him. Walker does a great job here helping to guide an unfamiliar reader along, explaining what asexuality is without it ever feeling like a lecture or info dump. With so few romances out there featuring asexual characters, I think this kind of information is useful and blends into the story pretty seamlessly.
What struck me most here is that lovely sense that Jordan and Hennessy are finally able to breathe when they are together. Both men have had dates and relationships where their partner couldn’t accept their lack of interest in sex and it has made them both so wary. They have both faced the weight of expectations, as well as a sense of failure for not being able to meet them. So being with someone who shares their sexuality, who understands what they want and feels the same, is just so freeing. We see this in particular through Jordan, who is just coming to understand who he is and what he wants. We can see a sense of anxiety, a skittishness as he is on his first date with Hennessy as he worries that suddenly Hennessy will want more, that Jordan will have to navigate this fine line of differing desires and expectations. And when he realizes that they want the same things, you can just feel his delight and relief.
This story is just so lovely and romantic. Seeing these men find each other and each realize how perfectly they fit is just so beautifully done. They have both struggled and it is such a great payoff. I’ll also add that asexuality in romance is not always easy to find, and I am thrilled that Walker has offered such a wonderful story featuring two ace characters. Representation is so important and I think this is a story that will speak to so many people who have ever had that feeling of not fitting in. So I just loved this one and definitely can highly recommend Upside Down.