Tuesday 7 September 2021

#CBR13 Book 33: "One Last Stop" by Casey McQuiston

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4 stars

CBR13 Bingo: they/he/she (the author is non-binary and bisexual (and uses any pronouns) and the book features pretty much all iterations of the queer spectrum, I'm not sure there is a straight character of any significance in the whole book)

Official book description:
Cynical twenty-three-year old August doesn’t believe in much. She doesn’t believe in psychics, or easily forged friendships, or finding the kind of love they make movies about. And she certainly doesn’t believe her ragtag band of new roommates, her night shifts at a 24-hour pancake diner, or her daily subway commute full of electrical outages are going to change that.

But then, there’s Jane. Beautiful, impossible Jane.

All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair and saving August’s day when she needed it most. The person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day. The one who makes her forget about the cities she lived in that never seemed to fit, and her fear of what happens when she finally graduates, and even her cold-case obsessed mother who won’t quite let her go. And when August realizes her subway crush is impossible in more ways than one—namely, displaced in time from the 1970s—she thinks maybe it’s time to start believing.

Casey McQuiston's debut novel, Red, White & Royal Blue, was probably my absolute favourite novel of 2019. It's still a massive comfort read for me. So obviously McQuiston's follow-up was eagerly anticipated. Nevertheless, publishing a second novel can be a massive undertaking, especially when your debut became such a huge and popular bestseller. Personally, while I liked One Last Stop, it took me much longer to get into the story and I doubt I'll be revisiting it as often as I have her first novel. 

In some ways, this book is a contemporary romance, albeit with a cast of pretty exclusively queer characters (August's mother seems to be straight, but she's a tertiary character at best). And then you add in the strange time loop phenomenon, with Jane stuck on the self-same subway train that August takes to college and work every day since the 1970s, without ever aging or changing in any way. Does this make the story science fiction? Magical realism? Fantasy? I can't really say, because apart from the rather big issue of a queer woman from the 1970s stuck on the New York subway for about fifty years, this book is all about figuring out who you are, finding your people (found family is a HUGE sub-plot in the book), discovering what you want and how to get it. Yet it also gives McQuiston the chance to show off all the meticulous research she's done on New York City and the history of the LGBTQ+ issues facing a lot of the inhabitants historically. 

Just as with Red, White & Royal Blue, the book is filled with wonderful characters, many of whom I'd love to read full books about (not you, August's Mum, you're a bit too obsessive for my tastes). August isn't as instantly likable as Alex and Henry and possibly because she's a bit more prickly as a protagonist, I wasn't as rapidly pulled into the story this time around. Reading about New York, especially since the Pandemic has made it impossible for us to go visit again, is never not going to be bittersweet, though. Once it becomes clear to August and her flatmates/adopted family that Jane is, in fact, a woman who existed in the 1970s and is still mysteriously on their local subway train, I was pretty much along for the whole ride (see what I did there, that's a clever play on words, that is).

Yet again, I'm sorry that corona fatigue, depression, and being a rather overwhelmed mother have made it impossible for me to review this in a timely fashion. McQuiston and the book deserve better. TL, DR: not as amazingly charming and easily devoured as Red, White & Royal Blue, but still very much worth your time. 

Judging a book by its cover: I'm sadly not as knowledgable about the various queer flags available nowadays, but I suspect the shades of light pink, rose and purple are a nod to both the bisexual flag and the lesbian flag since August is bi and Jane is a lesbian. I also like that she's gone with mainly pink covers for both of her novels now, this is a really cute one, and I can't wait to have both paperbacks next to one another on my shelf eventually. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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