Antisocial, by Heidi Cullinan
Release Date: August 8, 2017
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.
Asexual Spectrum Character
I was really torn about this book. I enjoyed the first half very much but could’ve easily skipped the second half entirely. So here’s what I loved and what I didn’t.
I adored the way Xander and Skylar’s relationship took root and blossomed so beautifully after their rocky start. Their interactions were so sweet and awkward and I alternated between grinning like a fool and sighing like an even bigger one as they slowly got to know each other. Between Skylar’s deep admiration for Xander’s artistry and Xander’s hopeless crush on the confident business major, their friendship eventually led to more and they found themselves spending an idyllic summer immersed in one another.
I enjoyed the aroace and gray spectrum rep in this book and I especially loved the way the two men explored their attraction with each other. The intimacy at times took my breath away and when you factor in how sensuous a simple touch of the hand could be for our two heroes, I may or may not have died several deaths during this book especially when they were out in public. Be it tender or playful, I enjoyed the many facets of their lovemaking and I really dug that Skylar, who was still exploring his gray spectrum sexuality, often played the seducer in the relationship. And Xander, so sharp and caustic and so, so shy… I seriously just wanted to cuddle them both, they were adorable together.
But moving on to the parts I didn’t like, which simply put, were the Japanese elements that overwhelmed the story. But before I get ahead of myself, let me clarify that I did enjoy parts of it at first. And let me also preface this by saying that as someone who’s been exposed to the culture from a young age including living with Japanese families in Japan, I get the fascination with all things Japanese, both modern and ancient. I get it, I really do.
I mean let’s face it, I pretty much pounced on this ARC just based on that gorgeous manga-like cover (I did read the blurb, I swear). And I loved the moments, especially when Xander and Skylar first started spending time together, that reminded me very much of scenes from anime (and not just because the subject kept popping up in their conversations). Perhaps it wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it was simply a matter of two young men bonding over Japanese manga and anime and falling in love. It made sense for Xander as a fine arts student and manga artist to know Japanese art history and to have even taken some language courses. And I loved that the serious, studious Skylar binged on anime as stress relief. I was even able to shrug off the “Japanese” history of the college and pass it off as quirky.
But as the story went on and more and more elements of Japanese culture were introduced, it definitely got weird for me, to the point where it felt forced and culturally appropriative. Alongside our two heroes, there was a whole group of side characters who were all obsessed with Japanese culture (barring perhaps Zelda, a kickass nonbinary aroace character). However not a single person was of actual Japanese descent. And no, the deceased husband of Xander’s landlady Pamela doesn’t count, even though she’d probably argue differently.
Around the halfway point, the story took an unexpected turn and by two-thirds of the way in, I felt that their romance had taken a backseat to everything else that was going on. I thought the sideplot with Skylar’s dad was crucial to his character development but Xander’s family woes felt unnecessary to the narrative. There were other things happening, both between the MCs and with the entire group, that I won’t go into here. But if the first half of the book focused on Skylar and Xander’s journey of self-discovery and sexual exploration, the second half was pretty much everyone’s journey to… well, you get three guesses. The story very much idealized (idolized?) Japanese culture, and Japan was presented as a wondrous land where all your problems were solved. So Japan was pretty much the equivalent of “magic dick.”
Antisocial was very obviously a labor of love by the author, and while I share some of this love, in the end the book was not for me. However, I would still recommend it based on the first half alone, which was easily 4.5 stars. But as a whole, it averages out to a 3-star read for me.
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.