Trigger Warning: the novel represents things that sometimes happen in the real world and contains scenes of self-harm, drug addiction, domestic abuse, and trauma. This review only makes some mentions of them. 

Finding a good slow-burn romance novel isn’t too hard – it’s a pretty common trope that’s used in romance literature. Finding a slow-burn with a bisexual protagonist? That’s a little harder to find. If you’re looking for a great Valentine’s Day read, look no further. 

The struggle for young bisexual people to find protagonists that they relate to is real, particularly when most romance novels tend to have straight people as the star. Though there has been a growing body of work with LGBTQ+ characters, these characters still tend to be gay and cis-gendered. The ‘B’ in ‘LGBTQ+’ is sorely lacking in terms of representation, both on and off-screen.

Not Quite Out seems like a standard romance novel, a slow-burn that takes place between two college students at Keele University (the author’s alma mater). William, a 19-year old English medical student, falls in love with Daniel, a 26-year-old Russian poli-sci student who works part-time at the university cafeteria. 

The two interesting points are that William – the protagonist – is a bisexual man and that Daniel is on the road to recovery from addiction, self-harm, and an abusive relationship. William being bisexual was pretty fascinating to read; it wasn’t the usual dilemma of ‘I like this person, what now?’ but rather, ‘I like this person, and I haven’t come out to others yet.’ We see Will fretting not just about his crush but about his sexuality, and it adds an all-too-real layer to his problem, one that other members of the LGBTQ+ community have struggled with.

It’s refreshing to see complexities come into play, rather than the typical one-dimensional ‘boy loves girl, girl loves boy’ dynamic that we see all too often. 

The friends-to-lovers trope was pretty well-played out – William and Daniel became fast friends. Though William falls in love with Daniel at first sight, he’s able to put his feelings aside and offers a helping hand when Daniel needs it the most and provides a safe space for Daniel to recover. 

The other trope – there is only one bed available – also played heavily in this novel, and it soothed my fanfiction-loving heart to see a gradual build from William sleeping on the floor to then providing a sense of comfort and warmth when they eventually (gasp!) shared the same bed. The moment is honestly pretty tender, and though they sleep apart, they wake up tangled in each other, and my starved heart wept.  

The age gap between Daniel and William is significant, I won’t lie about that. However, considering that they’re both full-fledged adults and that William is the one who comforts and soothes Daniel, there is no sense of predatory behavior or power dynamic or anything of the toxic sort. In fact, it’s one of the few healthier portrayals of a large age gap that I’ve seen recently in media – one where two adults are able to come together. 

To be honest, I haven’t read many novels that talk about drug addiction or recovery. Daniel’s recovery from his addiction is visibly difficult, but we don’t really see the harsher realities that he has to face. Considering that this novel is told from William’s perspective, it’s understandable.

The difficult truth about recovery and healing is that everyone displays their emotions differently. We witness that when William sees Daniel sleep – it’s the only time when his guard is down, and he suffers from nightmares. It reminded me of the fact that it’s difficult to know someone else’s full story, that we’ll never truly understand someone else’s trauma, and that being open and flexible is far more important than trying to understand every single point of trauma.

William and Daniel’s friendship moves quickly – Daniel accepts William as a friend almost immediately. It can be difficult for victims to build relationships with new people, but we do see William trying to project a sense of safety, and put his romantic feelings for Daniel aside to give him space. However, romantically, they do move quite slowly – they meet every Sunday, and it takes the length of the novel for them to finally admit their feelings for each other (slight spoilers, but who couldn’t see that coming?). 

Instagram live with author Louise Willingham: February 9 at 1pm EST
Instagram live with author Louise Willingham: February 9 at 1pm EST. Hosted by The Tempest on @TheTempestBooks.

William provides a physical sense of warmth and comfort for Daniel – from holding hands to hugs – which I absolutely loved. It’s not just about providing a warm hand to a friend in need, but about two men sharing soft moments and being comfortable with each other in those moments. They absolutely shatter the notion of toxic masculinity. And I want everyone reading the book to pay close attention to how William and Daniel were physically and emotionally comfortable with each other in a platonic sense before they took the romantic turn. 

In terms of a romantic comedy, Not Quite Out is a refreshing take on an age-old trope that desperately needed LGBTQIA+ representation, particularly bisexual representation. It’s a unique point of view that not many discuss, and it’s exhilarating to see this in mainstream media, without cowering behind tropes of ‘friendship’. Bisexual people deserve to have romantic love too, without having their choices – or their sexuality – questioned. 

I’m a harsh judge of romance novels, I don’t think I’ll ever find the perfect story, but I really enjoyed Not Quite Out. In terms of representation, ‘perfect’ needs to make way for ‘good’, and that’s the first step towards normalizing these stories. LGBTQIA+ people aren’t going anywhere, and it’s time that stories reflected that. 

The Tempest has an exclusive offer with a 10% discount if you get the book here with code Tempest10, and SRL Publishing will also plant one tree for every book sold. To support this endeavor, we have picked Not Quite Out as our book of the month for our Book Club in March, so what are you waiting for? Get it now so you can read along with us in March!

A note on the publisher that I wanted to bring up: SRL Publishing‘s commitment to the environment is real. Last year in the UK alone, over 77 million books were printed, not sold, and then destroyed. In an attempt to cut down on unnecessary waste, SRL Publishing does not print books in anticipation of sales. This has resulted in them saving 500,000 to 750,000 trees in 2019. To further their contributions, the publishing house will also print one tree for every book sold directly through their website, and we therefore encourage you to support them.

Alternatively, you can purchase this book on Bookshop where you will be supporting local bookstores. If that’s not available in your region, check Not Quite Out out on Amazon.

 

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Natalia Ahmed

By Natalia Ahmed

Editorial Fellow