Book Review: Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

February 26, 2018

Edition: Swoon Reads Hardback
Release Date: February 27th, 2018
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Received as an ARC from Pan Macmillan 

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting--working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she's asexual). Alice is done with dating--no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

In ‘Let’s Talk About Love’, Claire Kann gives visibility to both asexual and bisexual readers, whilst considering the intersections of race and gender. ‘Let's Talk About Love’ is the first novel with an asexual protagonist that I have ever encountered and it does a great job on educating readers and spreading awareness about what it can mean to be asexual. This was hugely valuable to my own limited knowledge on the matter and just goes to showcase the vital importance of representation. 

Alice Johnson was an absolutely delightful protagonist, a breath of literary fresh air. She was relatable, genuine, and infectious. Without a doubt, we would be best friends in real life (I mean c’mon she works at the library, loves Supernatural, and is praised for her critical essays on television shows and romantic ‘ships’). She was full of personality! As a protagonist she was well-rounded and fleshed out by Kann, her personality not at all defined by her orientation. Alice like me, is all about romance. She is a hopeless romantic full of angst and uncertainty given her past failed attempts at sex-free relationships. Takumi, however, completely changes Alice’s perspective on romance and forces her out of her comfort zone majorly. His presence at the library literally causes her to reevaluate everything she has come to know about herself and her asexuality, even prompting her to seek answers from a therapist for the first time ever.

‘Let’s Talk About Love’ does a wonderful job in depicting the full roller coaster of emotions that encompass both self-discovery and engaging in a new relationship - especially when Alice’s secret keeps her vulnerable and unable to commit fully in the way that she desires. I really sympathised with her situation and wished for her, nothing but pure and unaltered romance. Having Alice’s identity/orientation always be a game changer or deal breaker, something that she would have to explain over and over again, inclusive of all it’s grey areas, was not unnoticed. Kann conveyed the reality of this burden in a heart wrenchingly real way. The stakes felt particularly high after Alice’s  girlfriend breaks up with her after she ‘comes out’, purely because of her disinterest in sex. 

The novel really captures what it means to come of age under difficult circumstances. It speaks to those who lack a strong sense of direction, taking longer than their family or peers to decide their degree/future/career path. Although to the reader, Alice’s calling was obvious during the entirety of the novel, it takes Alice some time to fight against the continued pressure of her family to decide what she wants to do. I was really interested by the way in which Kann created such an interesting familial dynamic, focusing on a successful black family with differing values and a large age gap. It’s not often that we see such a strong family presence in a young adult novel so it was such a nice change, especially seeing as the Johnson family was not perfect.

‘Let’s Talk About Love’ also plays with the idea of found families through Alice’s two best friends Feenie and Ryan (the two are also long term high school sweethearts). I honestly adored the heck out of both of them, it was such a sweet relationship that they shared with Alice even though it wasn’t without it’s sour moments. Ahh the beauty of friendship <3 Honestly, Claire Kann rocks with her characterisation and this was only complimented by her use of dialogue that was from the get go engaging. I felt as though I was listening to or watching a friend. With her compelling narration, she managed to make third person narration just as personal and descriptive as first person. Fun fact: Claire Kann also uses brackets in such a fun way!

While not it’s predominate focus, Claire Kann excels at representing the nuances of being a black girl navigating both the dating scene and the world in general. During the course of the novel, Alice faces regular microagressions and acts of fetishism/tokenism. Some of this included being told things such as “I’ve never been with a black girl before” or “You’re pretty for a black girl”, and of course featured discussions about afro-textured hair and protective styles whilst touching on the difficult process of achieving “black excellence” in a system stacked against you. Alice’s experiences made the dynamic of her “friendship” with Takumi really interesting as he suffered similarly as a boy of Japanese American heritage.

Oh Takumi, where to start! Takumi the aspiring kindergarten teacher with a penchant for photography and cooking who broke Alice’s cutie code. The relationship between Alice and Takumi was very slow burn yet also super intense. It was consensual, supportive, with strong communication and good understanding. It was sincere and apologetic. Not perfect and awkward. What began as a purely aesthetic appreciation turned into a profoundly impactful friendship. Takumi was pretty cute and had a super adorable relationship with his nieces and the kids he read stories to at the library. How he and Alice could afford to go on such extravagant outings…I will never know.

I really really appreciated the positive attitude Kann displayed towards seeking therapy and counselling, the novel definitely advocated positive self-development in a way other YA Novels don’t do too often. It was also super interesting to see tumblr discussed as a source of community and an educational resource, especially for minority groups seeking acceptance and support. I was really happy that Alice never felt like anyone was entitled to know her sexual orientation, she valued and owned her privacy and her right to keep it a secret if she wanted to. She had already accepted herself. 

Similarly, I really enjoyed reading a young adult novel that focused on an older protagonist (19 years old rather than 16/17) in an older environment (in college living out of home rather than in high school and living at home) than usual. As I touched on earlier, this paved way to discuss older yet relevant issues such as growing pains and the longevity of high school friendships. 

I can’t speak to how true or relatable the representation of asexuality was, as someone who isn’t asexual, but it fills an absence on the market and was highly informative. However, aside from kicking ass in terms of representation and diversity (I mean our lead is black, biromantic, asexual and female, these are the stories readers are hungry for), ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ is entertaining and uplifting and the cover is absolutely to die for (particularly the hard back edition)!!! Holy heck!! Like how fantastic is it to see a darkskinned black women looking radiant and happy on a front cover? God bless.

'Let’s Talk About Love' was released in January this year in most countries and will be available in Australian bookstores as of tomorrow, the 27th of February. 

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