‘One Last Stop’ is the second book by Casey McQuiston, author of the massively popular Red, White, & Royal Blue. Like their first, its wildly implausible escapist fiction – this time with a time traveling twist. However, its also a delightfully emotional read, packed with humour, sadness, and profound observations on modern life. McQuiston has a gift for perfectly capturing characters and relationships, creating complex individuals who couldn’t feel more real. You want to believe their stories are true. If you’re looking for a queer book this summer, you won’t find better than this.
At twenty-three, life has taught August that the best thing to be is alone. After a string of college transfers as she tries to figure out what she actually wants from her life, she’s ended up in New York – complete with a dodgy flat, potentially even dodgier flatmates, and an accidental job at a diner that she’s completely unqualified for. She’s determined to make it through the year sticking to her status quo – keeping her head down and avoiding attachments. But her new roommates are surprisingly stubborn – and then, there’s a girl on the train. Jane. Her devastatingly attractive hero in a leather jacket. Except, Jane doesn’t just look like a 70s punk rocker – she actually is one, accidentally displaced from time to the 21st century. August will have to delve into her own past and skills she thought she’d left behind to help her – and she can’t get too attached. After all, Jane has her own time to get back to.
McQuiston’s cast of characters is utterly delightful. There’s August, our protagonist, clinging determinedly to the armour her life has demanded she wear. August is a mess, but the sort of mess that’s intimately relatable to anyone who’s ever been a twenty-something trying to figure out what they actually want from their life. There’s Jane, our love interest, a tall dark and handsome Chinese punk rocker who’s left a trail of broken hearts from here to 1970. Jane is cool, calm, and collected, the sort of woman who’s got everything figured out – except that it’s just a front for someone who’s not entirely sure who she is anymore, and hiding it behind headphones and a smirk. Then there’s the roommates – Myla, Niko, and Wes, an eclectic collection of misfits who form a fierce little family. Myla is a talented Black electrical engineer who chucked it all in to become an artist, with a bluntness about her that’s both admirable and regularly hilarious and a heart of solid gold. Niko, her boyfriend, is a trans psychic and terrible bartender, in many ways Myla’s opposite but also heartwarmingly perfect for her. Wes hides behind prickly silence and the distraction of his dog, Noodles, but is just as much of a softie as the others. The friendship they form with August is beautiful and heartwarming, and their banter is incredible – the little in-jokes and one liners are laugh out loud hilarious.
There are equally charming more peripheral characters, from neighbour Isaiah (who moonlights as the drag queen Annie Depressant) to grumpy pancake chef Jerry, but they’re best discovered organically. They’re also mostly queer. McQuiston captures how queer communities tend to form, outcasts spotting each other and banding together with bonds stronger than blood. There are references to homophobia and bullying, but for the most part the tone is hopeful and triumphant. This is a tale of queer joy, and it’s beautiful to read.
This is 99% a contemporary novel, with 1% the supernatural time travel element which offers only the most superficial justification. This doesn’t matter – it’s the sort of story that invites the reader to suspend disbelief, not requiring any real believability. The contemporary elements are brilliantly constructed. New York is constructed with electric atmosphere, from the grime of the subway to the customers at an all-night pancake diner at 4am. Behind the love story, the characters tackle family dramas, gentrification, coming of age dilemmas, and learning to trust after always being let down. There are several subplots, each beautifully written and complimenting rather than distracting from the overarching narrative. The way they tie in is foreshadowed – sometimes too obviously, but always allowing them to slot in neatly and satisfyingly. There are a few loose ends, but each allows the story to feel more real. Life, after all, rarely concludes tidily.
The ending is obvious but beautifully satisfying, and the way it’s achieved is over the top but glorious to read. McQuiston goes for entertainment over realism and overwhelmingly succeeds.
The representation is excellent. Jane is Chinese American, Myla Black with a Chinese adoptive mum. Niko is trans, and there are two drag queens with prominent roles. August is bisexual, Jane a lesbian, and there’s a secondary relationship between two men neither of whom label their sexuality on page. August never goes as far as to call herself fat but is written as a larger woman, delightful to see in a romance.
Overall, ‘One Last Stop’ is a brilliantly entertaining read, possibly even better than McQuiston’s first novel. It’s a bit cheesy and over the top, but it knows that it is, turning this to its advantage and creating a novel guaranteed to make you smile. Recommended for fans of sapphic romance, contemporary fiction, and found families – plus books that are just fun to read.
Published by St Martin’s Griffin
Paperback: 1st June 2021