The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann
Reading The Romantic Agenda was an interesting experience for me. Seeing there would be ace spectrum representation made it an auto-request for me. We do not have nearly enough ace rep in romance yet, which I kind of understand because there is such an incredibly vast spectrum of asexuality that it’s impossible to write characters to appeal to every ace. But I am always pleased to see another asexual character, and in this book we get two of them.
When I started reading, I was getting some red flag vibes because it seemed like it was going to pivot into My Best Friend’s Wedding territory, and while that movie was fun, I really didn’t want or need an ace version of it. So as soon as Joy, our ace goddess, mentioned that particular film, I felt my walls go up and my interest level plummet. I actually set the book aside for several days before returning to it and starting again. This time through I made it past that movie reference and soon after found myself completely engrossed in what turned into a beautiful story.
Joy and Malcolm have been the best of friends since they met in college at an asexuality info table at the school activities fair. They tell each other everything, they work together, each one is completely entwined with the life of the other. Malcolm is on a never-ending quest for The One, because he wants to settle down and start a family. He goes through girlfriend after girlfriend, each relationship ending because his partner could not handle his platonic love for Joy. After Malcolm’s breakup with his most recent ex, Joy is convinced that this will finally be the time that he sees her as more than a friend, that she could be his One.
Turns out, Malcolm has been seeing his new girlfriend Summer for a couple of months without telling Joy a thing until he springs a surprise trip to a lake house on her. In attendance will be Malcolm and Summer, along with Joy and Fox, who is Summer’s good friend(and ex). Malcolm hopes that Joy can keep Fox occupied so that he and Summer can spend more time together. Not happy with being the third and fourth wheels with the lovebirds, Joy decides to start fake dating Fox in order to annoy Malcolm, which is delightfully successful. Of course fake dating generally turns into real feelings, and you can see the general romantic arc from there.
But The Romance Agenda is so much more than a romance. It is an insightful look at what can only be called a toxic friendship between Joy and her best friend. Malcolm is, well, kind of a jerk. Actually he’s very much a jerk to Joy. He’s quite selfish and a bit manipulative and gets upset when things don’t go exactly according to his plan. It’s evident early on in the story that this relationship is not healthy for either party, and the offhand suggestion that is made that they go to couples counseling together is one that maybe they should have looked at more closely.
But even if I didn’t exactly love all of the characters as people, I did appreciate the depth that the author brought to our leads. I really became invested in Joy’s happiness and Fox is absolutely the grumpy good guy that she needs in her life. We leave the story at the beginning of their relationship, so it’s very much a HFN ending rather than HEA, but I’m ok with that. I also was pleased to see the discussion of asexuality, and the differences between Joy and Malcolm as asexuals. Because there is not just one way to ace!
Definitely check out The Romance Agenda if you are looking for a story with aspec rep, fake dating, grumpy meets sunshine, dazzling fashions, birthday cake, spooky woods, and puns galore!
Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Romance for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.