Alice had her whole summer planned. Nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting—working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she's asexual). Alice is done with dating—no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.
But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).
When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library-employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.
Claire Kann’s debut novel Let’s Talk About Love, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, gracefully explores the struggle with emerging adulthood and the complicated line between friendship and what it might mean to be something more.
Praise for Let’s Talk About Love from the Swoon Reads community:
“A sweet and beautiful journey about self-discovery and identity!” —Macy Filia, reader on SwoonReads.com
“There aren't many novels that have asexual characters and it's something people need more of.” —Alice, reader on SwoonReads.com
“I want this on my shelf where I can admire it every day.” —Kiara, reader on SwoonReads.com
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|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Everything was perfect before Alice unlocked her dorm room door.
"I want to break up," Margot said.
Alice stood, stopping and starting whatever she had planned to say. Her mouth moved, forming shapes of words, but only tiny ticks of noise echoed in the back of her throat. A sharp, bruising ache crept upward from the pit of her stomach.
"I know this seems kind of sudden." Margot had begun to wring her hands. One of the things she and Alice had in common was their aversion to direct conflict. "I wanted to wait until I moved out but I've really been thinking about things and it's better to just get it out of the way now so I can focus on my finals. Instead of this."
"Why?" Alice asked. Unable to meet Margot's eyes, she stared at her arms crossed over her chest.
"Because you won't have sex with me," Margot answered.
Alice knew it before the words even left her mouth. Of course this was about sex — what else could it have possibly been about? She held her back straight, refusing to hunch her shoulders to hold the pain in. She allowed it to fill her, allowed that raging, anxious monster to spread. The tension in her legs kept telling her to RUN, but where would she go? They shared a room and still had a week to go before the semester ended. Eventually, she'd have to come back. Eventually, they'd have to have this conversation.
Couldn't Margot just send her a breakup text like a decent human being?
"We had sex this morning," Alice replied. Dread pumped through her veins, making her voice sound as skinned as she felt. "Twice."
"That's not the kind of sex I want to have," Margot said. She tucked one of her wild blond curls behind her ear.
That monster flared white-hot inside Alice. The only reason why Alice bothered to have sex was to make her girlfriend happy. If Margot didn't want it, what in the hell was the point?
"Sure fooled me. If I recall, which I do, there was a lot of happy screaming involved."
"Because you're good at it!" Margot stood, walking toward Alice, hands outstretched. "You know exactly what I like. I can't say the same about you." Margot sighed. "I want to touch you, Alice."
"You touch me all the time." Alice's limp hands dangled while Margot held her wrists. "You're touching me now."
"I want to lie in bed and kiss you everywhere for hours. I want to be able to show you how happy you make me."
"We do that, too. You know me: I need cuddles or I will die."
"And that's something I love about you, but when it's time to get serious, it's like you turn into a different person. I want to have passionate sex with you. It's weird that I can't reciprocate anything."
"It is not weird." Alice snatched herself away.
"It makes me feel weird," Margot clarified, her voice pleading. "It's like you don't like me as much as you say you do. When we have sex, it's because I want to. You never initiate it. I'm not allowed to do anything to you. On the rare times we do make out, I swear to God I can feel your mind wandering."
"But I like kissing you!"
"And the worst part is you don't trust me enough to tell me why."
Why, why, why? Why did Margot need to know about the why? As if she were a problem to be fixed, as if Margot's magic fingers could make it all better. She realized, before the concept of Them was even a blip in the universe, that Margot would never understand. Before they decided to be together, Margot had brought other girls to their room so often they had to create a Scarf on the Doorknob system so Alice could stop walking in on her frequent sexcapades.
Sex mattered to Margot.
And it didn't matter to Alice.
"I trust you," Alice said. Not a lie, but not the truth either. "It's just hard to talk about."
"I'm asking you to try. If you care about me, you will."
The words I'm asexual knocked around inside Alice's head. She knew she was, had known it for some time. She had also hoped she could wiggle her life around that truth like it didn't matter or would never come up. High school had been hell, but college was a whole new beast dimension. Everyone seemed to be trying to have sex with everyone else.
And Alice was caught dead in the center of bloodied, shark-infested waters. It had gotten so bad, she had begun to give the disasters names: The Great Freshman Letdown: Robert Almanac Edition, followed closely by its sequel, Turns Out She Was Pansexual (And Totally Coming Onto Me), which then turned into an unexpected trilogy, Boys Like Girls Who Like Girls, and now it had become a quartet, The Hazards of Sex and Other Unwanted Lessons.
When it came to accepting that she was asexual, it was about an eighty-twenty split. That twenty part encompassed the fact that Alice could not call herself asexual in front of another person. So instead of telling the whole, hard truth, she danced with the definition.
Alice sat on her bed, finally allowing her body to fold in on itself. The time had come to hold that in, to feel that pain and keep it close to her heart. Brand it, press it down deep, right next to her old nickname, The Corpse. She stared at Margot's baby-pink ballet flats with the tiny rhinestones near the toes. Alice had bought those for her.
"I don't see the point," Alice said. "I don't need it. I don't think about it."
"Sex?" Margot laughed — a tiny giggle, as if Alice had told a mildly funny joke. "But you're Black."
"Oh Jesus, save me." Alice covered her mouth with her hands and stared at Margot.
"What? I can tell jokes, too." She looked confused for a moment before shame made her face turn red. "That was racist wasn't it? I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to sound like that. I swear it was a joke."
(The perks of having a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend from middle-of-nowhere Iowa were endless.)
"But I'm not joking. I meant exactly what I said. I don't care about sex. You're right. I did it because you wanted to do it."
Margot lowered herself down next to Alice, slowly, as if she were dealing with a scared animal. "Have you gone to a doctor?" she asked. She traced her delicate fingers over Alice's shoulder, curving toward her spine. It tickled, but Alice didn't show it.
"I don't need to." Number one, she thought.
"Were you abused? Is that it?"
"No." Number two.
"Are you saving yourself for marriage?"
"I hope that's a joke."
"It was," Margot admitted. Her sad smile burned in the corner of Alice's eyes. "Then what? Tell me. People don't just not like sex without a reason. It's kind of not natural, don't you think?"
To that, she had absolutely nothing to say.
After a few minutes (Margot had never been into begging), she left Alice's side.
"I can't be with someone who can't talk to me," she said.
The finality of the moment punched her in her stomach. "Margot —"
"And I can't be with someone who doesn't desire me. You could never love me as much as I would love you. You understand that, don't you?"
Margot had been gone exactly seventeen hours. After five days of awkwardly inching around each other in their room, she had told Alice she wanted a "clean break" right before she finished moving out. Didn't even want to be friends anymore because asexuality was unnatural.
(Okay, so maybe Margot didn't say that exactly, but that's how it felt.)
(Like her identity was contagious and had the ability to make Margot's above-average libido disappear.)
"Here you go," Moschoula said, setting down Alice's third cup of coffee on the table. Moschoula had tanned skin, the kind of color that implied she was most likely mixed rather than white, with kinky, natural burnt-orange hair pulled up into a bun on the top of her head.
Cutie Code: Yellow, no question about it.
An intense obsession with aesthetics had taken Alice by surprise in high school and she had begun to code her reactions. She had created Alice's Cutie Code(tm), complete with a color wheel for easy categorizations — from Green to Red, with all the colors in between.
"And a bear claw on the house," Moschoula said. "Try to have a better day?"
Even nestled in the back of Salty Sea Coffee & Co with its chalkboard walls, glorious wood paneling, and dimly lit ambience to spare during peak morning hours where no one should have been paying attention to her, sorrow radiated around Alice like a mushroom cloud. She had gone there to discourage herself from wallowing alone in her now half-empty dorm room. And also from crying.
(But God, did she feel like giving her tear ducts a solid workout.)
"I'm not having a bad day. I'm fine. Really."
"You've been watching baby animal videos since you got here and I have yet to hear a single giggle float out of this corner. You forget I know you. Something is definitely up."
"I've dubbed this the Misery Corner. I'm infected."
A girl who looked stressed to death sat two tables over from Alice. She stared at nothing, eyes open, watery, and bloodshot. Her fists pulled the sleeves on her jacket taut. The cuffs stretched across the back of her trembling hands.
Gloom flowed out of the girl in waves, dimming her shine. Goodness, did she look like she needed a hug. Several hugs and probably an hour of silent cuddling. Alice (a steadfast believer in the power of hugs) loved affection but knew it wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
Moschoula peeked at Alice's screen. "I mean, look at that! That at least deserves half a smile."
Presently, a baby badger rolled around in a pile of blankets, and the sight did make Alice's heart squeeeeee with mounting intensity.
Instead, she sighed. Sighed before biting on her lower lip. "I'm fine."
Moschoula smiled, kind and concerned. Alice loved that they were friends — and not just because Moschoula started making her to-go order as soon as she spotted her walking down the street and gave her free pastries. She had met Moschoula and her friends during a Pride rally at school. She was the only girl in that group who didn't snub Alice for being bi.
(And the only person she met who had an undying love for watching gymnastics.)
Glancing over her shoulder, Moschoula said, "I have to get back. Holler if you need anything." She grinned as she backed away. "Anything at all."
Alice nodded before sliding her headphones on. She switched from videos to a music playlist aptly titled Nobody Knows after a song by one of her favorite one-hit wonders and laid her head on the cool wood of the table.
If she was being honest, she wasn't in love with Margot, but they had had potential! She had even planned to tell her dad she had a girlfriend (with hopes he would break it very gently to her mom). Even her best friend, Feenie, had approved of Margot, which was rare as hell.
(Excluding her boyfriend, Ryan, and Alice, Feenie hated everyone, including her own biological family.)
A pool of tears collected in the space between Alice's eyes and the bridge of her nose. When she blinked, the first drop crested over and rolled down, splashing on the table. She wiped it away before anyone who cared enough to look would see.
It had all been Margot's idea. She had kissed Alice first. She had convinced her to date. She had wanted this, wanted her. And Alice had fallen for it and Margot and everything they were and could be. She had believed in Margot and their relationship. Had thought herself to death about it, and each night it resurrected itself in her dreams. Margot made her want this specific brand of happiness. Made her believe she could have it.
Feeling stupid didn't even cover it.
How could Margot say something like that?
What made sex so integral that people couldn't separate the emotional love they felt from one physical act?
Love shouldn't hinge solely on exposing your physical body to another person. Love was intangible. Universal. It was whatever someone wanted it to be and should be respected as such. For Alice, it was staying up late and talking about nothing and everything and anything because you didn't want to sleep — you'd miss them too much. It was catching yourself smiling at them because wow, how does this person exist?? before they caught you. It was the intimacy of shared secrets. The comfort of unconditional acceptance. It was a confidence in knowing no matter what happened that person would always be there for you.
If Alice couldn't even tell Margot she was asexual, then no, she hadn't been in love. This moment, this unexpected ripple in her timeline, wouldn't kill her. But, universe help her, did she want to press that Fast-Forward button anyway.
(This shit hurt like a bitch.)
(A very persistent bitch that seemed to be trying to claw its way out of Alice's chest.)
A package of Kleenex landed on the table near her head. Startled, she sat up and uncovered one ear.
Moschoula slid into the seat across from her with her apron slung over her shoulder.
"I'm on break," she said. "You're crying. We should talk."
"Margot broke up with me," Alice blurted.
"That sucks. I'm sorry." She nudged the Kleenex toward her.
Alice nodded in acknowledgment of her sympathy while trying to blow her nose without honking like a goose.
"I thought things were good between you. Did she say why?"
By the grace of all things floofy, she managed not to start grinding her teeth.
"That bad, huh?" Moschoula asked, eyebrows raised. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No. But thank you."
Moschoula was more of a Hey, let's watch the first three seasons of American Horror Story in one weekend than a Hey, my heart hurts. Please listen to me and make me feel better kind of friend.
"Are we still on for Friday morning?" They had lived two rooms apart in the same dorm, two semesters in a row. Moschoula had volunteered to help Alice load up her rented moving truck, but couldn't help unload. She had a plane to catch for a summer vacation on some wondrous island paradise.
"Yeah. Those boxes aren't going to move themselves. I appreciate you, your time, and your manpower in advance."
"You can appreciate me by ordering anchovies on the pizza you bribed me with."
Alice's face pinched in disgust. "But they're so salty and taste like ocean. Why?" "It's what I want."
"Well, I want you to fit me into your suitcase, but you're not even willing to try."
Moschoula tapped the back of Alice's hand. "It's good to see you smile."
"Only for you."
"You know my girlfriend hates it when you say things like that to me."
"Adoration and continuous compliments are how I express my affections." Alice rolled her eyes. "And it's not like I say it in front of her. There's literally nothing to be jealous of."
Moschoula sighed. "I think she just wants you to, uh, compliment her, too."
"Oh." Alice pursed her lips. "I thought she didn't like me, but I think I can arrange that." The alarm on her phone beeped: her ten-minute warning before her final class started. She lived (and thrived) by the constant alarms she set for herself throughout the day. If it weren't on her calendar to remind her, she would most likely forget to do the thing. "I feel like throwing up, to be honest. On top of everything else, I'm about to fail this math test. Finals are absolute murder on my digestive system," Alice said, packing up.
"You got this. I have full faith in your mathematical abilities. Walk you out?"
"No need. Hug me, please?"
"Always." Moschoula gave great hugs. Just the right amount of pressure, none of that awkward back patting, and she always smelled like lemons. "I'm going to miss you when I leave." She pulled back. "Cheer up, Charlie."
"Great. Now I want chocolate. And Fizzy Lifting Drink."
"Good luck on that last one."
"All those juice bars sell edible grass now, so it should be on the way. Some scientists somewhere will figure it out soon." Alice laughed for the first time in seventeen hours and twentynine minutes. It was small, barely more than an amused chuckle, but it was there all the same. Thank God for her friends. What would she ever do without them?
(God willing, she would never, ever have to find out.)
"I don't understand how you have so much stuff. You had half a room. Half!" Feenie complained, pulling her long blond hair into a ponytail. "You knew how small it was in here."
Alice had met Serafina (Feenie if you knew what was good for you) on the first day of kindergarten. She had walked right on up to Alice, offered half of her cherry Fruit Roll-Up, and kindly and without preamble declared herself Alice's best friend.
(Obviously, the title stuck.)
"It'll all fit," Alice said. "My dad got me these cool floating shelves and stackable storage bins."
Excerpted from "Let's Talk About Love"
Copyright © 2018 Annie Camill Clark.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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