Title: Tash Hearts Tolstoy
Author: Kathryn Ormsbee
Two-sentence summary: When Tash Zelenka’s “Unhappy Families,” a modern webseries adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, goes viral and is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, she becomes friends (and maybe something more) with fellow Tuba nominee Thom Causer. But how can she explain to her budding crush—or anyone else—that she’s asexual?
Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a heteroromantic asexual protagonist. Asexuality is something I still have a lot to learn about, but just for others who might not know the difference between asexuality and aromanticism: asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, and aromanticism is the lack of romantic attraction. Because I’m not asexual, I don’t know if I can comment on whether it’s an accurate portrayal but have seen generally positive reviews from the ace community. There is also a queer male relationship, but it’s not the main focus of the novel.
What I loved: Every character in Tash Hearts Tolstoy felt vibrant and alive, even minor characters that don’t get more than a few scenes in the novel. You can’t always say that, especially since too much backstory can sometimes weigh down a novel, but it really gave this one depth. It felt like dipping into someone’s memories of the summer before their senior year rather than just a simple YA romance. In terms of the romantic plot itself, that, too, was more complex than I thought it would be—a happy surprise. I didn’t expect the characters’ reactions to Tash’s identity, nor their internalized emotions, to happen as they did. Without spoiling the story, the romantic heart of the story doesn’t turn out as you think it will but still ends in a satisfying way.
And while I don’t identify as asexual, I have seen several reviews from ace readers that said reading this book was like stepping into light after a long time in the dark. It was also useful on a personal level because it helped me understand more about ace identities and complexities that happen when a romantic asexual person goes into a relationship with a non-ace person. Whether you’re familiar with the ace community or not, it’s an insightful and comprehensive portrayal without weighing the text down with paragraphs of explanations.
Quote: “If you want a chance at being happy, exist. Because yes, life can suck, but as long as you’re alive, there’s a chance you can be happy.”
Recommended: This was such a delightful story! I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a cute, quirky novel with plenty of diverse queer identities. And, of course, if you’re a fan of literary webseries like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries or (my personal favorite) Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Invite Only Casual Dinner Party / Gala For Friends Potluck, this also explores the “other side” of producing one—dealing with melodramatic actors, reacting to negative reviews, and managing a sudden tsunami wave of fame. It’s so wholesome, guys!