Today Smexy welcomes Alyssa (Hi Alyssa!) who is talking about disability rep in her latest read. You can find her on Twitter at @measuredandslow
Always Only Yoy by Chloe Liese
Bergman Brothers #2
August 4, 2020
I was really excited to read this one; you don’t see Rheumatoid Arthritis or Autism, let alone both, in romance that often. When it does show up it tends to be in older characters or a reason for the femme character to be benevolent and caring (there’s a lot of concoctions for ‘rheumatism’ in historicals), and it can start to feel like disabled people are either not important enough to mention or only good for proving something about someone else, so a book that dives into these things in a meaningful way is exciting. And the cover has a model with a cane and sensible shoes!
Frankie has been working for a hockey team as their social media/PR person for several years and has decided to leave to go to law school. She is autistic and has RA, and has moved far away from her family and built herself a small but amazing support system (her no-nonsense friends are great). Ren has been on the team for a similar length of time and has been in love with Frankie for years, but hasn’t felt like he could do anything about it because of fraternization rules. I love this as a premise because it sets up some great pining without using the word “friendzone” even once! He’s a genuinely sweet weirdo who loves Shakespeare and only cusses in old bard phrases, and has convinced the entire hockey team to do a Shakespeare night to unwind before playoffs. We find out mid-book that he’s also a virgin, and though I wasn’t a huge fan of the way Frankie reacts to this, a reversal of this trope is still refreshing.
I really loved both of these characters. Frankie is a filled-out, nuanced portrait of what it’s like to navigate the world as a disabled person; I can’t speak to the accuracy of the autism portrayal, but it felt very fleshed-out to me in a way that was not just an info dump but genuinely part of gradually letting Ren in. I also appreciated the relationship Frankie develops with his youngest sister, who is just starting her journey to understanding what being autistic means for her, and Frankie acts as sort of an elder in this capacity, a position many of us find ourselves in as we age into our disabled identities. Similarly, though her RA is the more obvious of the two since she uses a cane (a cane named the Elder Wand, a fantastic bit of disabled humor), it takes her a long time to trust Ren with the harder parts of her illness. The dark moment surrounds this conflict, and it felt real to me in a way that was almost too painful; part of falling in love and sharing your life for a disabled person is trusting another person to handle the realities of your life, and most of us have had a LOT of people dip out of our lives because they couldn’t handle it. There are a lot of little details in here that felt incredibly real to me as a fellow RA-haver, from her hip giving out at inopportune times to her somewhat strained relationship with her family, who don’t quite see her or treat her as a full person but rather a collection of issues.
The reason I gave it a B instead of an A is for two reasons, the first one being that an inescapable part of hockey romances are that they are incredibly, overwhelmingly white. I think an attempt was made here; several of the hockey players have names that could be something other than white, but it wasn’t clear. Frankie is Italian and Ren (short for Søren) is Swedish, which is perfectly fine, but if we’re already in a fictionalized world, there is no reason that world needs to be filled with only white people. The second issue is that Frankie, and a couple of side characters, are very into Harry Potter. I understand that a person of a certain age would have these books as a formative experience, but I don’t think we need to be giving something so painful for so many people any oxygen, regardless of authenticity. I also wanted to warn that there is a brief mention of Ren’s brother having cochlear implants, which is incredibly controversial and again, painful, for many people.
Final grade- B