“Robby found the time he spent with Andy was the most comfortable and rewarding of his life.”
In a word: Maybe read the thing? I really wanted to like this one. The premise was an interesting one and I’m still having a hard time finding books with asexual leads. But I just didn’t like it. Robby and Andy are good characters, in theory, and I really wanted to read their story. But I just couldn’t with the writing. The writing annoyed me and the romance was basically nonexistent. Also a lot of characters acted horribly with barely any consequences. What originally drew me to the story was the idea of Robby learning that he is asexual and falling in love with his new friend (who happens to be trans) while they solve a mystery. What I ended up with was a story that was almost nothing like that, and was also badly written with a very obvious mystery and an inconsistent romance and tone. I recommend this one on the premise alone, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s not really a book I’d read again. To be fair, I’m not the target audience (this book is YA), but I don’t think that excuses much here. Teens deserve better.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains homophobic language, transphobia, bullying, and assault.
The Couple: Robby Czerwinski is a high school senior who is currently struggling with his sexuality. The only two sexualities he seems to know of are gay and straight, and his lack of interest in either girls or boys leads him to believe that he’s neither. Either that or he’s a very late bloomer. It’s at school, on the first day of the new year, where he first meets Andy Kahn, who’s new in town. Andy is transgender and has only recently started transitioning (although he’s still a teenager and already had a hysterectomy?); we learn, through poorly executed third-person flashback, that this is his first time being around people who never knew him as a female. It ultimately ends up not really mattering because the general school population soon finds out, somehow, that Andy is trans and starts bullying him for it. Robby and Andy hit it off right away and they settle into an east friendship. I think that the idea was that their friendship would eventually develop into a romance, but that never really translates in the text. Robby and Andy are going on as friends, and then suddenly there’s a kiss with very little lead up (except for discussing Robby’s sexuality in a very dry way, I think). The only insight we get into their inner feelings is that Robby feels very ‘brotherly’ and ‘protective’ over Andy (Robby is physically stronger and a lot bigger than Andy, so he fancies himself a protector from the bullies), and that they’re good friends and comfortable together (I don’t remember much of Andy’s thoughts). It’s not that it was hard to imagine Robby and Andy in a relationship together, but the way it played out in the story didn’t make me believe in it. Most of the story’s focus is on Robby and Andy dealing with bullies and trying to solve the mystery of Robby’s great-aunt’s disappearing and reappearing knickknacks, and it doesn’t do a good job building up a romantic relationship in the background of that. The boys become close as friends over the course of the book, but when the time came to shift things in a more romantic direction it felt jarring and unexpected. Honestly they had better chemistry as friends than as romantic partners. And then Robby’s realization that he is actually asexual, and trying to figure out how he would make a relationship with a sexual person even work, happened too late in the story to have enough time devoted to it.
The Side Characters: Quite a few side characters in this book, I was not a fan of a lot of them. First there’s Robby’s immediate family: his mother, who is either a struggling parent or just shy of neglectful and incompetent; his father, who never shows up and is only mentioned once or twice (he left the family); and younger sister Claire, who is a completely hateful bitch for the majority of the story until she suddenly has a turnaround out of seemingly nowhere and suddenly all her previous behavior is excused and/or ignored (I especially didn’t like Claire, nor did I like the way her storyline played out). Robby has three friends from school, who all eventually seem to fade from his life/the story at different speeds. Luis and Rhonda (and I swear there was another one but I can’t for the life of me remember) seem like more casual friends, and they barely show up before completely disappearing altogether. Max is the one friend of Robby’s who sticks around the longest, and I think that’s only because he’s there to have some sort of sexuality crisis in which he makes homophobic jokes and comments to hide the fact that he’s actually gay and has a crush on Robby. I did like Max, though I found most of his behavior annoying. There are three main bullies that torment Andy, they are Smartass, Grease, and Smack, which gives off the impression that this book may have been written by a teenager. These three are just stock bully characters and we aren’t supposed to like them. Initially I was angry at them, but by the end I was just tired every time they showed up (I also got really pissed off that Andy never tried to have an adult help out with them, but that’s less to do with the bullies and more of it being an aspect of Andy’s character that got on my nerves). Then there’s Aunt Ivy, Robby’s great-aunt who is obsessed with history and historical knickknacks and is also a writer with published works with Dreamspinner Press (that is a thing that actually happened… in a YA book). She’s a kind, sweet old woman, and she seems to be the only family member that Robby is really close to. Lastly there’s Robby’s Uncle Roger, who is very obviously the resolution to the mystery and not much else.
The Mystery: There is a bit of a mystery in this book and, since I didn’t think that the book did a good job with balancing the romance with everything else going on, it came off as unnecessary and annoying. Also it wasn’t much of a mystery, I had it pretty much figured out right away (I know this is a book for younger audiences, but teenagers aren’t stupid, they will figure this out quick). Robby’s elderly Aunt Ivy’s house is full of historical collectibles, and they’re starting to go missing. I think this was supposed to be the other major plot point after the romance, but it got just about the same amount of focus as some of the other unnecessary subplots going on. I figured out what was going on right away, and I figured out who was behind the whole thing as soon as Uncle Roger made his first appearance. It’s a mystery that isn’t really a mystery. It was also trying to be written in a way that Robby was noticing clues but wasn’t able to put them together, but it was so awkward and obvious that it just made Robby look like a moron. Robby and Andy got up to a bit of detective work at a few points, but those scenes were so clunky and boring that I wish they’d just been left out. Actually this whole plot point could’ve been left out and the book would probably be all the better for it.
The Sex: This is a young adult book, so no sex, which I had expected. There is some sexual talk and crass humour (teenage characters, kinda unavoidable), and there is one scene where Robby and Andy start making out and it starts to move into more sexual territory but nothing really comes of it. The closest thing this book comes to a sex scenes are vague mentions of Robby masturbating, and they’re only mentions and not actual scenes.
The Writing: I found the writing bad in this. Spelling and grammar wise, it was good. No complaints. The execution of the story is where it really fell flat. The plot was unbalanced, and there were a lot of unnecessary and clunky scenes for unimportant things. The mystery was too obvious and not interesting enough to share the spotlight with the romance. Speaking of the romance, I didn’t feel it. There weren’t really any signs of anything beyond friendship building between Robby and Andy, so when they suddenly became romantically inclined, it was pretty jarring. Another thing that was bad was that the dialogue was too expository and dry, especially when it came to talking about sexuality and gender identity. Robby talking about Andy to others (which also struck me as invasive and a bit not good) was always very clunky and awkward. Then there’s the way Robby learns about asexuality. It actually happened when someone came to his class to give a (sounding like it was lifted from a text book) lecture about it, which is kinda lazy. Why Robby didn’t think to look for this kind of information online (it takes place in modern times) I have no idea, which is another point that annoyed me. Finally there’s the epilogue, and the less said about that the better. Really, I think the only thing I actually liked about this book was the premise. It was so promising.
[A Fine Bromance was published August 11, 2016, by Harmony Ink Press; it is available both as an ebook and in print]