Tag Archives: women

Review: The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

Year we fell downLike many of the books I’ve read recently, I came to this book in a roundabout sort of way. I read a few stellar reviews of the third book in the series, and added the first book to my sample list on my Kindle. Then, I read Bowen’s post on NA Alley where she questioned whether or not an author could put an m/m title in what was otherwise an m/f series. In that post, she says that she’s gotten at least a few responses to her newest book, The Understatement of the Year, where some people decided to pass on it because it’s a m/m story.

My feelings about this are deeply conflicted. On one hand, no one is obligated to read anything, and if you don’t want to read a story about two men, then that’s fine. On another hand, the fact that most m/m romance is written by women with a target audience of women also kind of weirds me out. Most stories are awesome and amazing, but there are some that I’ve read that are pretty fetishizing and creepy. Of course, some section of EVERY romance genre is kind of fetishizing and creepy, so why pick on m/m romance? On YET ANOTHER hand, I’d like to think that the average reader might be willing to give a m/m romance a try, if they know and enjoy the author, and possibly have a new genre of romance open up to them. On another hand…

You see how it is. This is an octopus issue for me, and I don’t have an easy answer. But, I did have something I could do. I commented on Bowen’s NA post that I would be buying the book to read myself, and “so there mean reader,” or something like that. (I was very tired at the time. I might have had a beer. My husband regularly disregards my requests that he take away my internet when I’ve been drinking, because I entertain him.)

I read The Year We Fell Down hoping to enjoy myself, but I had no idea that I would be so blown away by this book. Corey Callahan is the main character. She is currently using a wheelchair for mobility, and she needs braces and forearm crutches to walk. She is mad about this, mad about what she’s lost, and she’s not apologizing for that, but she’s also not a bitch to all and sundry just because her life has changed. She is actively trying to figure out how to live when her life has taken a sharp left turn.

She is intrigued by Adam Hartley, her cross-the-way neighbor who has broken his leg very badly, and so is also sitting in the “gimp section” as they put it in their gallows humor. Hartley slowly encourages Corey to reconnect, slowly convinces her that it is possible for a man to see her, and not just the chair or the braces. Corey is rapidly falling for him. Only problem? He’s already got a girlfriend, Stacia, who by all accounts brings out the absolute worst in him.

Things I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. It is made clear that Hartley and Stacia have an “arrangement” while she’s in Europe for her semester abroad. Hartley’s flirting and … more with Corey are therefore easier to stomach without making her “the girl he cheated with,” something I hate.
  2. Corey never defines herself in terms of Hartley. She actually recognizes at one point that her reliance on him is keeping her from making other friends, and she tells him that they can’t be friends right now, because she needs to find her own feet.
  3. When Hartley makes up his mind, and realizes that he’s treating Corey like crap, he acts decisively. He doesn’t hem and haw and tell the reader all about how AWFUL this is, he just does the right thing. Bam.
  4. Did I mention that Corey is freaking amazing, and strong, and powerful? She’s neither the angelic girl in a wheelchair who’s going to make everyone appreciate their functioning legs, nor is she the angry, bitter cripple out to ruin everyone’s life. She’s a girl, a girl who has some “shit to shovel,” and she’s going to move that crap as best as she can.

Excellent book, wonderful, brilliant, I love it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and it’s not even just so I can stick my tongue out at some random email person anymore.

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Queerness and privilege

A friend recently linked me one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. This is from a 2013 article on EverydayFeminism:

Although a queer person may pass as straight if they’re in a heterosexual relationship, straight privilege by definition doesn’t exist for them because a) they’re queer and b) they still have to deal with prejudiced assholes on all sides, and I’m pretty sure that cancels out any ephemeral benefits of temporarily passing.

…I’m sorry, but are you joking?

pansexual transgender

I am a cis-woman who is attracted to a variety of genders. I’m not a huge fan of the term bisexual because I feel that it enforces the concept of gender binary, which I think is misguided, but I also dislike pansexual. It sounds like I should be off cavorting with satyrs. Pan was a jackass in the Greek. So we’re going to go with queer for the purposes of this little rant, if you don’t mind.

I’m a queer cis-woman in a monogomish marriage with a heterosexual cis-man. Just a few of the examples of how I  absolutely receive straight privilege unless I choose to out myself are:

  1. When people ask after my spouse/husband/partner, and I mention my husband, or say his name, their automatic assumption about the gender of my partner is correct and reinforced. There’s never been a moment since I’ve been with him that people say “Oh!” blink several times, and then start telling me about how all their best friends are gay. That happened a lot when I was with my girlfriend.
  2. When my husband and I decided to get married, we had the support of our families and the church I attended at the time. In fact, my relationship with a certain segment of my family improved, as they decided I was now “fixed,” despite my attempts to explain the concept of orientation fluidity to them. (I will admit I only tried so hard. There was a certain place where it became clear they weren’t listening, and didn’t care.)
  3. When my husband and I had children, there was no hubbub about his name going on the birth certificate. He didn’t have to fill out special paperwork, and we didn’t have to invest money in him adopting our children.

These are just a couple of examples, there are a near infinity more. Of course, one of the things about privilege that seems to confuse so many people is that you don’t just have privilege. It’s not an all-admittance pass. I can easily point to white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and class privilege in my life. When I choose to pass, I also easily gain access to heterosexual privilege and Christian privilege in my life. But that’s the key here. I have to choose to out myself. I have to talk about my girlfriend, or people have no idea. The fact that I don’t have to deal with people’s nonsense in my face every day, that I get included in these higher power groups unless I remove myself, that is a big part of what passing is. Passing is its own kind of hell, I don’t discount that for one minute, but the whole point of it is that you do it because you gain privilege (and remove perceived threats) by doing so. And when I do out myself, sometimes the backlash is…intense. I once blew up an entire parenting message board by asking the question of how someone like myself spoke to her kids about sexuality to avoid reinforcing heteronormativity. That…was an intense week.

I don’t like passing. I did it for a very long time, for a variety of reasons, and my personal experience was that the costs outweighed the benefits. I am loud, now, about my queerness. I stamp my feet when clients or editors demand bi-erasure in stories.

I don’t know if it’s enough, I’ll never know. But it’s what I can do.

On the importance of romance novels

Something I’ve heard a lot from various authors who write “genre” fiction is the idea that they aren’t doing anything important. That their books don’t change the world. I’ll tell you the truth, when my favorite authors make the switch to writing fiction that’s “important,” I tend not to follow them. I read stories. And I find stories to be incredibly important.

In our current culture, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy continues to thrive. Walking this morning, I heard a man blasting music from his truck. I heard a lyric about “She’s not Cinderella as she gets undressed / cuz she rocks it like a naughty Wicked Witch of the West,” and wondered (not for the first time) why she couldn’t be both. Every actress who has thrived on Disney, from Annette to Miley, has taken control of her world by claiming her sexuality publicly, causing criticism about “what happened to that sweet little girl,” because of course sweet little girls don’t twerk.

Or for the most nefarious example that’s hit close to home recently, my friend Stacy was walking home after a theater performance a few nights ago. It was late, it was dark, but we live in a fairly sleepy little town. She was on the phone with her boyfriend as she walked, and a car pulled up beside her. The man inside began trying to talk to her, keeping pace with her as she tried to speed up. He began to shout. She began to run. Thankfully, there was an open store on the corner, and she booked it inside. She is one of the strongest women I know, an advocate for feminism and female equality, the kind of amazing person who can make me laugh until I snort milk out my nose, but also call me on my privilege and my bullshit in a way that makes me rethink what I’m doing instead of just getting defensive. And yet, when the clerk at the store offered to call the police, she thought to herself what good will it do, he hasn’t done anything illegal. She thought, did I do something to make this happen? She thought was this my fault in some way?

The beauty of romance novels is that they are read. They are read by scores of men and women, and they, I truly believe, have the power of offering an alternative to the porn-star poses found in magazines and certain movies. Romance writers write about heroines who are not perfect, either physically or emotionally, but still deserve to be treated properly, and be loved. Romance writers write about enthusiastic consent being incredibly sexy and hot. Romance writers include safe sex in a normalizing way.

One of my favorite moments in my freelance erotica career was when I was writing a scene where the very Alpha male ended up asking for consent from the woman he was with. The client objected to his asking, and told me that the man should just, you know, take what he wanted, and the woman would just submit.

I spent about an hour boiling over with rage, and then wrote back and politely informed my client that I did not write non-consentual encounters (negotiated non-con is a different beast, but we’ll leave that for now), and perhaps i had misunderstood him? And if I had not misunderstood him, well then we could talk about whether he wanted to give me a partial payment for what I’d already done and find another freelancer, or just call it done.

He backtracked quickly. I did rewrite the scene to make the Alpha more Alpha-y, but he asked for and got his yes before he laid a finger on the woman in question. Thank you *very* much.

Another of my friends likes to say that I’m saving the world through porn by writing what I do. I write about broken people who manage to tape themselves back together again, and get their happily ever after, even if it doesn’t look like they thought it would. I write about poly families establishing long-term couples that are happily ever after for everyone. I write about women who are strong, and make their own choices. And, maybe even more importantly, I write about partners who love how independent their women are, who don’t view it as a challenge to be conquered, but as an asset in their joint battle against the forces of the world.

My friend Stacy did end up letting the clerk call the police. The police were very respectful. They never once asked what she was doing out so late, on her own, or asked if she thought she should be out by herself. They didn’t blame her, or accuse her, though she still found herself explaining why she was out alone. The guy who shouted at her was, of course, long gone by then, but she got home safe. She gave me permission to tell the story here and use her name, because, as she said to me this morning, “What good is freedom and autonomy if using it puts you in mortal danger?”

To every romance writer out there: don’t believe for a second that what you write isn’t important. What you write is read, and it matters. It helps women see that there is hope, that we can demand more from the people around us. That’s crucial, if we’re ever going to change this world, and make it better for our daughters and our sons.

Keep going.