About the Book
Author: Charli Coty
Date: February 5, 2018
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 68,200 words/182 pages
Categories: Contemporary romance, bisexual, genderqueer/non-binary
Ezra Cook is sole caregiver to older brother Tray, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in his forties. They live outside the small town of Drop, Oregon, on property Tray bought with his Microsoft settlement money. For years, Ezra has been going on and off low doses of testosterone to maintain a comfortable level of androgyny. Ezra spends most days juggling Tray’s needs and the work required to survive in rural Oregon on a small income, ignoring their own needs, especially companionship and sleep.
Ellred “Red” Long escaped Drop at seventeen but returns to his hometown in disgrace after his band dumped him on the streets of LA. Coming back doesn’t seem like such a dead end, though, after he sees a guy walking along the side of the road in the rain and gives him a lift.
Ezra and Red’s chance meeting begins an uncomfortable friendship neither had expected, and both allow fear to keep it from escalating into a hookup, or worse, a romance. Red never meant to return to Drop and doesn’t want to get stuck there again, while Ezra’s protective walls may be too strong to breach, from either side.
I went into this really excited for two reasons: I love, love, love Charli Coty’s books, and I was thrilled to see one about a non-binary AFAB (assigned female) person in a relationship with a man. This is, after all, my life. The book left me with mixed feelings. There were things I thought were wonderful, and things I wasn’t sure how to process.
First, the things I loved. The setting is terrific. The tiny town of Drop is almost a character itself. If you know anything about me, this is a guaranteed way to make me a happy reader. I like when a setting has a personality of its own. I felt like I was right there, and I could picture everything. It’s so beautifully (and affectionately) written.
Second, I liked the overall queerness of the book. There’s no mistaking it, this is not “a book with queer characters.” It’s a queer story with interesting characters, through and through. Although both Red and Ezra deal with their own separate internal issues relating to sexuality and gender, that’s not really what the book is about. Those things are set against the backdrop of the other life stuff they deal with.
Third, the bisexuality. My God, yes. Yes, yes, and yes. This is what a bi book should be. Even though Red has to work through what it means for him, both he and Ezra are unapologetically bi. I didn’t always love how that played out, but I am over the moon that a book exists where not a single person has to play Bisexuality 101 with a partner or cope with biphobia in their relationships.
Now for the stuff I was more hesitant about. I’m glad I stuck with the book, but I was nearly put off by Red being “stupid horny” and how often the attraction between them seemed to focus on their genitals. It surprised and annoyed me, especially in a book that’s not listed as erotica. If they were just going to hop in bed and spend most of the story there, I’d be fine with it (and probably not read it, but that’s a separate issue). In a romance or a book with romantic elements/subplot, I really don’t want or need someone’s bits thrust at me. There are so many other ways men experience attraction and so many other ways to write about it.
Then there’s Ezra’s gender/gender expression. I could not relate to this at all. I do recognize that there are non-binary people who take hormones and use various means of presenting as more masculine. And I knew going in that Ezra was on T. However, I was expecting androgyny, not masculine-presenting. Ezra is misgendered for over 90% of the book. The pronoun conversation should’ve happened a lot sooner, or Red should at least have begun thinking of Ezra that way sooner. He’s an open-minded guy and wasn’t bothered or confused by Ezra’s gender once he was aware.
Part of the reason this frustrated me is that it felt like it was leaning toward being a story that could be read as MM/Gay Romance and that having Ezra be truly androgynous or too feminine would’ve made it “not queer enough.” This is a problem in real life, and it’s disappointing to see it played out in a book. The other reason it bothered me is more personal. Not all of us can “pass” as a gender other than what we were assigned. That’s what I was hoping for here, or at least to see a bit of that. Instead, it came across as a fixation on genitals and Ezra trying to be “one of the boys” because it’s still easier for people if they can at least imagine we fit neatly into a gender slot. I was looking for more ambiguity.
Ultimately, this is a good story, and it isn’t solely focused on the romance, which I like. The things that disappointed me might not bother someone else. And this is only one book; there is plenty of room for more stories about bisexuality and gender variance.
For a gorgeous setting and plenty of unapologetic bisexuality but some mixed feelings, this gets 7/10 fountain pens.
About the Author
Charli Coty misspent a large chunk of her youth on the back of a Harley, meeting people and having adventures that sometimes pop up in their fiction. Mx Coty writes everything from contemporary to paranormal, always with a happy ending. Charli has survived earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods, but couldn’t make it through one day without stories.