Robyn Reviews: One Last Stop

‘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

Robyn Reviews: Red, White, and Royal Blue

‘Red, White, & Royal Blue’ is pure escapist fiction. Since its release it’s garnered constant comparisons to fanfiction for its idealism, tooth-rotting sweetness, and amalgamation of romance tropes between – of all people – the First Son of the first female US President and the Prince of England. Naturally, it’s an absolutely implausible read – but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny, joyously fun, and a much needed ray of light in a genre which contains too much tragedy. If you’re willing to go along for the ride, ‘Red, White, & Royal Blue’ is deserving of its reputation of one of the best books in the LGBTQIA+ romance genre.

Alex Claremont-Diaz is tabloid fodder – the twenty-one year old son of the first female US president, and the first half-Mexican in the White House. His entire life revolves around politics – and with election year approaching, it’s more important than ever that he remains the perfect marketing strategy. So, when photos leak of an apparent confrontation with his arch-nemesis – none other than His Royal Highness Prince Henry, grandson of Her Majesty the Queen of England – damage control is essential. Enter a clever scheme: a fake friendship between Alex and Henry stretching back years. Alex and his arch-nemesis must put their longstanding enmity aside and play nicely for the paparazzi. Except the more time they spend together, the more it becomes clear that they don’t hate each other after all… and the only thing more damaging for both of them than enmity is love.

Both Alex and Henry are instantly loveable characters. Alex is a charmer – intelligent, witty, and determined, he’s the consummate politician, always looking for the right thing to say (unless Henry’s involved). But underneath the politician’s sheen he’s a hot mess – unsure what he wants to have for lunch, let alone the direction of his entire life, and clueless about his own personal life even with things staring him in the face. Alex’s relationship with his sister is heartwarming, and his relationship with his mother complicated, but overall filled with love. (There’s a scene involving a PowerPoint which sums it up perfectly and is one of the funniest scenes ever put to paper).

Henry is, in many ways, an American caricature of what a British person should be like – uptight and repressed, faultlessly polite, but beneath that veneer kind, caring, and exceptionally poetic. It’s impossible not to like him. There has never been an outwardly gay member of the British royal family, and Henry’s relationship with his sexuality – and how it affects his perception of himself – is heartbreaking to read about. However, this is always a hopeful and optimistic book, and it’s always clear he’ll get a happy ever after.

The plot is stereotypical romance – enemies forced to play nice and pretend to be friends end up in a secret relationship which will undoubtedly be revealed at the worst possible time – but the characters and writing make it so much more. Alex and Henry get themselves into ridiculous situations and force you to laugh, cry, and gasp right along with them. Their chemistry is electric, but so too is the chemistry between the books many friendships – Alex’s White House Trio, Henry and his sister Bea, Henry and his friend from Eton Pez. There are elements which stretch the bounds of plausibility to its limit, but you want to believe it’s possible – you want to believe that Alex and Henry can beat the odds. (And yes, the Prince probably can’t just conveniently obtain the keys to the V&A for a midnight visit – but everyone wants to believe it could happen).

Overall, ‘Red, White, & Royal Blue’ is the sort of tooth-rotting fluff that everyone wants to read on a bad day. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top, but so likeable that it’s hard to care. Recommended for all fans of romance and LGBT fiction, and everyone who wants something happy and optimistic to get through hard times.

Published by St Martin’s Griffin
Paperback: May 14th 2019