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A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.”

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I got an ARC in return for an honest review on NetGalley.

Where do I start with this one? I saw review after review cross my feed on Goodreads that said the book was long, the focus on Japanese culture killed it, and a lot that should have scared me away from the book. I am stubborn and it was a book that I could read immediately, so I gave it a shot. The only issue I was really worried about was appropriation of Japanese culture, which I think the book did. The non-Japanese characters were praying to Japanese gods (Kami) and were naming themselves after them at one point. That really irked me. When the talk was about manga, art, cherry blossoms, and the history of the kami, it was ok. When the characters actually actively started claiming the culture as their own, I started to get wigged out.

I LOVED THIS BOOK. I stayed up until four in the morning to finish it. I have not stayed up late for a book in years. I was wide awake at four, just marveling in the book. The second I turned off my kindle I was out like a light. This book was the only reason I was awake. It was that good. There was just so much that made this book perfect. It did not feel long, the ending didn’t feel forced, the ending was not rushed. All of the loose ends were tied neatly up. There was some unbelievable portions, but I glossed over them while reading while I normally obsess over those sorts of details and get lost.

The characters developed into real people. I didn’t like how dramatic the shift was for Skylar. It was a bit much, but I have also seen people make that dramatic of a shift in a very short time, so I know it happens. I just got really worried about him and I was getting annoyed with him. My annoyance didn’t detract from my love of him or the story, it just added another layer of emotion.

I loved, loved, loved that there was little to no discussion of Zelda’s gender. They were just them. The pronoun was they and none of the characters batted an eye and it wasn’t a central focus, the gender identity just was. I am so tired of books that beat me over the head with side characters being anything that isn’t cis, white, male, and straight because of the long drawn out explanations that the author/editor deems required. I didn’t care how Zelda got to where they got in their identity, they just were. It was so refreshing and perfectly executed. The book didn’t give me Basic Identity 101, which would have killed the book for me. I like that the book met me as an equal and left any research up to me. It allowed someone like me, obsessed with sexuality and gender, not to have to sit through pages and pages of basics when I teach the subject. Zelda became a sort of mentor character despite not being perfect, which to me was much more realistic and necessary. None of the younger characters were perfect, there was one older character that was perfect. She deserves that title and reminds me of some of my favorite professors in college.

Can I marvel at the sex scenes for a while? They were majorly intense. These are some of the best sex scenes I have ever read. They are exactly what this book called for and exactly what I needed in my life. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they were not what I was expecting which made them even more intense for me. They worked so perfectly. I was just complaining to a friend on Goodreads that I needed more books like this one, but I didn’t expect to find it so easily. There was the heat, but it was so enlightening. I can’t say anything else without ruining what I think is the best twist in a romance novel I have ever read. (If you are sex averse, you will still be ok with them. I can almost guarantee that. Just give it a shot.)

The writing was gorgeous. I was never lost, nothing was ambiguous, there were no issues with The Pronoun Problem (IMPRESSIVE!). Just overall, I can’t rave enough about this book. I have already sent a crazy number of texts to friends telling them to buy the book and I have ranted for a good hour to my partner about the book (perks of dating me).

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5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book.

You can buy this book here.

~Isaiah

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