I want to preface this review with this : marginalized readers, you are enough. Your existence is enough of a reason for you to be portrayed in any work of fiction. You are enough, damn it. I’m starting with this because I’ve made the mistake of reading reviews and I’m appalled that “Courtney Milan checks too many diversity boxes” (whatever that means) would be the extent of many people’s first reaction to the wonderful diverse cast she offers us in Hold Me. I’m just… shaking my head, frowning, when I see that people don’t realize that they’re actively telling marginalized readers that stories representing them must have some kind of educational purpose to mean something. And that is fucked-up in so many ways, I can’t even begin to express them.
Now for the book : Hold Me is a brilliant example of what I wish I’d find more often in romance novels, and takes the enemy-to-lovers trope to a whole new level, without it never being unbelievable but rather, gradual and splendidly executed.
▨ First of all, *opens mic* MARIA LOPEZ IS THE BEST AND THAT IS ALL. She’s so fierce and complex, and I am in awe of her. I guess I just really really admire her. I want to be like her when I’m a grown up, actually, and who cares if she’s younger than I am, right? Technicalities, etc. She’s so courageous and brave, gorgeous and smart, and every time I picture her in my head she’s standing on a table, the whole 6’2 of her shining, telling calmly but firmly the hypnotized assistance to fuck off because she is enough. Oh god I’m crying again. What is it with me. The fact is, Maria doesn’t apologize for who she is, but that does not mean she never doubts or doesn’t feel the weigh of her insecurities. She does, and that’s what makes her so real and makes me want to hold her. I’ve seen readers being confused by the differences between her persona on the internet – Em, the apocalyptic scientist, and Actual Physicist’s confident – and what she shows the world but… Excuse me? I mean I’ve talked about personal things in my reviews that even my family doesn’t know about, so… of course I get it. I more than get it, actually : I love it. I adored the added complexity it created, for both main characters. I also strongly disagree with people who complain that her being a trans woman wasn’t “enough of an issue” : why the fuck should it be? Maria Lopez is a Latinx trans woman, a badass and a fantastic character, and that’s all you need to know. She’s enough. The End.
▨ Hmm, so I adored Actual Physicist, but I’m not gonna lie, it took me a very very veryyyyy long time to warm up to Jay. I mean, the guy has so much misogyny to unpack and he’s so… unaware of this fact, it pushed my buttons (and not the good ones). The way he thought that he was one of the good guys (because having women friends makes a feminist out of you, have you heard? Not) made him so predictable. At first. However, I loved how Maria called him on his shit and how he actually, you know, listened. Even if he took his sweet time, he evolved and became such a caring and adorable love interest, how could I hold a grudge? Moreover. Ugh. I am gonna make this review personal am I not. Look, I was a straight As student. Until I wasn’t. Until I started skipping classes. Until I dropped college altogether. And the fact is, no matter the fact that I came back and graduated and fought to win a job I love, there’s a part of me who will always stay stuck on the utter disappointment I was for my parents at the time. That shit doesn’t go away. Plus I am a workaholic and I thank books every day because if I didn’t have this passion? Dude. I’d be stuck on Pinterest looking at teaching stuff all day. So I guess I… related to Jay? In that sense? I know how hard it can be to let it go, and despite my initial doubts, I felt for him.
▨ Hold Me being a romance novel, I guess you expect me to ramble about Maria and Jay’s chemistry and so on… But I will not, because strangely I don’t think its most important strength lies here (even if yes, I did like them together a lot). On the contrary, what made me love this book has more to do with the way it tackles the issues of classism, of judging upon apparences, of prejudices, of complicated family relationships… So. Much. Win. Not to mention a very needed look at what it means for women to work in STEM in our sexist world that attributes a value on women depending on how they dress.
Courtney Milan deals with these issues in such a thoughtful and satisfying way, without never resorting to cheap cop-outs, and I love her for that.
That’s why even though the romance itself was more a 4 stars for me (for personal reasons we can never really explain : we feel it, you know? Mostly I discovered that flirting with Math was not really my thing), Hold Me as a whole more than deserves a 5 stars rating.
Rep : Latinx trans woman MC, Chinese/Thai American bisexual MC (whose mother is Muslim and father is Buddhist)
TW : anxiety, panic attacks, death of a sibling, suicide