Eh. That was my overall feeling, upon finishing this book: eh. I was excited to read it, and I certainly didn’t hate it, but I didn’t find much to love about it, either. It was fantastic to see a black biromantic asexual woman starring in her own story, but overall, the story itself, for me, was only meh. It takes place over the course of a summer, in which Alice, an asexual college student, meets Takumi, a coworker at her summer library job. She’s immediately attracted to him, which unexpectedly throws her into new territory.
Alice goes through a whole lot in this novel–she’s dealing with her feelings for Takumi, anxiety about whether or not to come out as asexual, her changing relationship with her best friends, whom she’s just moved in with, and pressure from her family to pick a career that will make them happy. That’s more than enough material for a deeply emotional and satisfying novel. But on the page, so much of this book felt empty.
So much of this book was just ordinary things happening. Alice goes to work. She has conversations with her coworkers. She flits with Takumi. She goes home and has dinner with her best friends. She talks to her siblings on the phone. She goes to work. She goes to therapy. She and Takumi hang out. And while all of those things can certainly add up to a good book, that didn’t quite manage to do so in Let’s Talk About Love. I found myself continually bored. I wanted to care about Alice, and on some level I did. I wanted to see this young asexual woman find herself, and love, and connection. I was rooting for her, but I didn’t feel invested in her journey.
I think, ultimately, it came down to the writing. It wasn’t bad, but there was nothing luminous about it, either. A book doesn’t have to have luminous writing in order to be good, but there was a lot of exposition in this book, and when Kann did delve into emotional territory, the writing often felt boring, staid. I felt like I couldn’t really access Alice as a character. I couldn’t feel her anger or pain or loneliness, even though it was written on the page. The writing felt distant, rather than urgent or immediate.
I did like the sense of family between Alice and her two best friends, and I would have liked to see those relationships explored in more depth. The times when I most felt like I was getting a sense of Alice’s character was when she was with them. I loved the way they took care of each other, their quirks, the intimate language between the three of them. When things began to change between them, I wanted to see both more of the conflict, and more of the resolution.
I also really appreciated that, though Alice struggles with her feelings of attrition to Takumi, she never struggles with her asexuality itself. Hiding her sexuality, as well as the pressure of how and when to tell new friends about it weighs on her. But it’s always something she likes about herself. She’s never ashamed by it, and she owns it, quite beautifully, throughout the novel, even as she learns new things about herself and continues growing into her identity. That was lovely to read.
I read this book soon after finishing The Poet X, which blew me away. Part of my problem may have been comparing it to that. The novels are not at all similar, except that they both deal with relatively ordinary things: crushes, family, friendship, young people discovering their evolving identities. But whereas the writing in Let’s Talk About Love was somewhat ignorable, the writing in The Poet X was explosive, vibrant, courageous. It has me thinking about how much the bones of a story matter to me. The words, the sentences, the rhythm of it, the lines and paragraphs, whether or not the language sings. Unless I’m reading beautiful fluff, I care about the language of a book more than just about anything else.
I didn’t go into this one expecting fluff, and I wouldn’t categorize the material as fluffy, but the tone, to me, felt fluffy–like the language was secondary, rather than the thing the story was built with. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t work for me. As an example: there were many, many parenthentical asides, many of which did not seem like asides, exactly, which I found extremely distracting.
So, this wasn’t my book, but there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with it, and it may well be yours, especially if you’re looking for a book that deals with serious themes in a light, fun way, with lots of cute, lots of snuggling, and lots of parenthesis.