One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley. Swerve. 2017.
There are many lovely pieces of this story. The chemistry between the MCs, the way desire and tenderness wound together between them, the hotness of them together, the delayed gratification of that. There are super charming swoony moments; I especially liked the dancing moment. And the heroine had my heart; I fell really hard for her, in all the ways she was flawed and human and armored and vulnerable and tried to hold everything and fell apart. I adored her. I loved the chosen family in this, just like I did in Level Up. I love love love Cressida so much and really hope she gets her own book. I need more Cressida in my life, and really need to see a story from her point of view.
I loved book 1 in this series, and I was really excited to read the next book. This one felt a bit rockier to me, like it struggled to hold the balance of the darkness in the story with the lighthearted romp the tone indicated that it wanted to be. It felt off-kilter, because it took these serious things (spoiler, so highlight to read) (a history in the foster system, child abuse, stalking, attempted murder) and wasn’t able to hold the seriousness of them, along with the humor it was attempting to find in them. It is possible to hold both humor and darkness together, but in my opinion you have to take the weight of them seriously in order to find humor that works. This didn’t hit that mark for me. Because of that, the story felt mismatched to the tone, which made the actual light parts harder to enjoy. I wanted this to be a cozy geeky comfort read like book 1, but it just wasn’t.
I have mixed feelings about the disability representation in this story. There are two characters with mental illness: Cressida, who has agoraphobia, and the villain/stalker. There are complex things going on with Cressida and the heroine Hailey, her sister, that include a rather ableist dynamic between them, that gets deeply challenged by Cressida at several points in ways that I really appreciated. I was concerned while reading that this dynamic of Cressida being thought of as dependent and a burden would not be challenged and was so relieved that it was. That said, Cressida is a disabled secondary character who frequently is in the role of moving plot along for the abled MC, being an obstacle for the lovers, or helping the MC realize things and learn things, and this made me uncomfortable, especially because so many of the ways that happen are about Cressida being disabled.
What was even harder was the mentally ill stalker character who is an intense caricature and does not even have a name. It is possible, I think, to tell stories with mentally ill villains, but those stories need to have villains that are complex and nuanced and not tossed away caricatures that appear in the last act out of nowhere, and they need to be balanced by portrayals of mental illness in MCs that is shown in complexity and with care. This kind of caricature of a mentally ill stalker villain with a huge knife is hurtful both to people with psych disabilities and to survivors of stalking. As a reader who is both, it felt like a kick in the stomach.
- Trauma survivor heroine
- Disabled secondary character
- Queer secondary characters
- Biracial Asian American woman author.
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Stalking storyline. Attempted murder. Ableist dynamic. Ableist villain caricature. Physical fighting. Discussion of child sexual abuse, child physical abuse, child neglect in the past, and growing up in the foster system. Depiction of emotionally abusive familial relationship. Sex on the page.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter.
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- Review of Level Up, the first book in this series
- Review of Sated, another contemp m/f geek romance
- Review of Making Up, another contemp m/f geek romance
- Review of Unraveled, another romance with a heroine who has a disabled sister she feels responsible for and struggles to support the independence of