Heat Wave by Elyse Springer

heat-wave.jpgI couldn’t connect with this one. I’m starting to realize that I’m actually somewhat particular about my romances–I like them angsty (the angstier the better), and I like them best with a secondary plot. This one was neither angsty nor especially plot driven, and there were some problematic elements that left me feeling uneasy.

The two main character are both bisexual women, but the POV character, Sara, discovers her bisexuality when she falls for Laura, whom she knows because they have an ex in common. Sara falls pretty quickly, and doesn’t have much trouble accepting that she’s not actually straight, but even so it felt…exhausting to read. People deal with and discover their sexuality in many ways, and that’s all well and good, but this novel felt a bit trope-y, and not in a good way. I didn’t want either character being bi to be a thing, but it ended up being a thing. Laura is jealous and afraid Sara will leave her for a man, unwilling to commit because of it. Sara is afraid of admitting her true feelings to Laura. There’s a lot of non-communication, which generally I’m down with in a romance (as long as it gets resolved!) but I just didn’t buy it here.

Some of that may have had to do with the characters. I liked Sara, a woman in her late twenties, working as manager at a diner in Brooklyn, struggling to make ends meet, somewhat adrift, but with good friends and a strong sense of self. I like that she’d never gone to college, but was smart, determined, and had a lot of drive. That felt relatable and true. But Laura felt somewhat empty to me. It was clear that these two women both helped each other grow, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. Laura helped Sara discover sides of her sexuality she didn’t know where there, and both women ended up taking good risks they would not have taken without the other’s urging. But there was nothing in the text, nothing specific, other than attraction, that explained their relationship. I didn’t know them well enough to be fully invested.

This may just be me, of course. There isn’t much plot. Most of the book is the two of them going out drinking, going home to have sex, and in between, Sara going to work and stressing out about the relationship. And while I appreciated the emotion behind the sex, and Sara discovering her kinky side, I needed there to be more–plot, tension, character, something–in order to truly enjoy this book.

Here’s another thing that happened: the first time they have sex, Sara is drunk, and remembers none of it. In fact, the book cuts from the two of them going out to the next morning, when Sara wakes up trying to remember where she is. This felt icky to me. Yes, this is a thing that happens in real life. But does it need to happen in a romance novel? It took away all the joy of the buildup for me. There was no first kiss in this novel. There was a night of dinking, and then, oh, now I’m in bed with you, how did that happen? It felt sloppy to me, like a copout, especially because Springer didn’t use this encounter as a springboard for the rest of the book. I recently read a romance by KJ Charles that begins with a deeply troubling sexual encounter–but it works because the characters wrestle with it for the rest of the novel, in real and challenging ways. Here, it just happens, and the book moves on, and it left me feeling uneasy.

The worst part, though, is the way Springer deals with a minor trans character, Sara’s kickboxing trainer. They’re not good friends, but they’re friendly, and at the end of a session, Sara tells him about Laura and her conflicting feelings about being bi, about how she feels like she’s becoming a different person. He responds by lifting up his shirt to show her his scars from top surgery, which is how he comes out as trans, to both Sara and the reader. I actually sat up and said, “what?!” out loud when I read this scene, because I couldn’t quite believe it (although, unfortunately, stereotypical and harmful treatment of trans characters is not surprising).

I could go on at length, but, in brief: what an insensitive and offensive way to introduce a trans character. It basically equates being trans with surgery and reinforces the idea that being trans is all about medical transition, which, of course it isn’t. It’s an example of the “dramatic reveal” which happens all the time in literature and is reductive and harmful. It’s such a tiny scene, and it isn’t even that important to the plot. It would have been so easy to just allow this person to be a trans character, supporting Sara as a friend. Instead, there’s this totally unrealistic and upsetting scene that left me with a bad taste in my mouth

I enjoyed the first book in Springer’s Seasons of Love series, but this one did not live up. I’d just chalk it up to my own preferences, but between Sara and Laura’s first sexual encounter being a blackout that Sara does not remember, and the problematic representation of a minor trans character, this is one I don’t personally recommend. It wasn’t terrible, but why settle? There are better romances about queer women out there.

 

 

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