Adult queer contemporary romance
Berkley Romance/Penguin Random House
April 12, 2022
Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life—and no, it’s not Joy—she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox.
Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy—and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?
As an ace spec (asexual spectrum) person who loves romance novels, I read and enjoy plenty of books about allosexual people, and that's always just been the norm - I like sex scenes as long as they seem specific to the characters (not true of all aces, to be clear), and just get kinda bored when they read like just descriptions of what's happening for the sake of it, sometimes roll my eyes a bit when the characters are going on about how sexy the other lead is, especially when it's very focused on specific physical attributes. But mostly it's like dragons or spaceships or all the other things I like fine in books without needing them to exist in my own life. But even though it doesn't bother me in other books, the lack of focus on sexual attraction as the relationship in The Romantic Agenda progressed was so striking, and sort of . . . refreshing? Like "oh yeah, I don't necessarily HAVE to read a bunch of stuff I don't relate to in order to read a love story." (Honestly that sounds too negative about other books but I'm not sure how else to put it. I love other romances too! Obviously!) It was just . . . nice to get that for once, and I got surprisingly emotional about it. News flash: Representation matters.
If the above paragraph made you think "Wait, what are you talking about?" then good news: Kann weaves some great explanations around asexuality (and a few different kinds of ace experiences) into this book without seeming preachy, so I'd definitely recommend it to people who'd like to learn more.
And in addition to all that, The Romantic Agenda included a bunch of things I love in romances, including fake dating (one of the best tropes!!), social media stardom, baking, and really great conversations between the leads. I also liked that it didn't have a Big Bad Thing happen that needed to be resolved at the very end - those can work in romances but I often prefer romances that just . . . skip it. People can work through their feelings and issues and have plenty of plot without a giant misunderstanding or breakup or other relationship crisis.
Kann's writing is funny and keeps things moving while not shying away from serious topics and real introspection, and her characterizations are so vivid and feel like real people with real dreams and problems and occasionally annoying traits. I really enjoyed her YA novel Let's Talk About Love as well, and I will definitely be reading more of her books.