CW: transphobia

Love and Other Disasters rides the cooking show competition wave with a romance between two contestants. In one corner, we have London, an openly nonbinary, pansexual contestant who is especially good at desserts. In the other, we have Dahlia, a queer (her word) divorcee who is great with main courses. London is quiet and reserved. Dahlia is goofy and outgoing. Will these two find love amidst the perils of cooking, competition, and reality TV? This is a romance so…OMG, OF COURSE THEY WILL AND IT’S ADORABLE.

Tara: I’m going to get my favourite aspect out of the way: I am big fans of Dahlia and London (as characters, but also, I’d definitely be cheering for them if I were watching the show).

Dahlia is probably my favourite because she’s so layered. She’s bubbly and lovely, doesn’t take shit from anyone, but also beats herself up over her divorce and how little money she has now that she’s single. She has a very strong arc, because she comes to understand that she deserves happiness and love, and isn’t just the big fuckup that her inner saboteur says she is.

London can come across as grumpy when they’re actually guarded, because they’re concerned about being accepted as they are. Not going to lie — that made me want to protect them with bubble wrap and fight anyone who’s shitty to them. I especially loved watching London warm up to Dahlia because, as determined as they were to keep Dahlia at a distance, London stood no chance. I had fun as London recognized their growing attraction and how hard they were falling for Dahlia, against their better judgement.

Carrie: The two characters balance each other beautifully, don’t they? In addition to the development of their romance being an utter delight, I felt like these two people complemented each other’s personalities the same way certain flavors complement each other in cooking. On their own, each character is a LOT, but combined they are JUST RIGHT. Even though their romance develops very quickly, it felt like a slow burn because their chemistry was so intense that every time they even glanced at each other I was all “KISS ALREADY!”

Tara: I completely agree about their chemistry! I was so happy when they started to spend more time together off-set, driving out to the beach and crashing a wedding, among other activities. I could have happily read another hundred pages of them hanging out around LA.

London’s nonbinary identity is a huge part of the story and their character journey. As someone who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, I was thrilled to see a nonbinary character as the lead of a romance. I felt seen as I read about London’s perspective and what they navigate as they live their truth in a world that doesn’t always understand them. Unfortunately that does mean London experiences transphobia, although I found it was conveyed sensitively.

Details about transphobia in the narrative

The transphobia London experiences comes from a few places:

  • London shares with Dahlia that in the three years since they came out, their dad has refused to use their correct pronouns. I was relieved that, when we see him on the page, he doesn’t use any pronouns, so we don’t have to watch him misgender them.
  • Early in the story, another contestant argues that London’s pronouns are grammatically incorrect and she never changes her mind. However, the one time she misgenders London while speaking with Dahlia, the book uses the correct pronoun in place of the misgendering and tells us “Except Lizzie didn’t say they.”
  • When the show starts airing, some people on social media are super shitty about London being nonbinary. We don’t see any of the social media posts and only learn about them as a generality. In contrast, near the end of the story, we see some beautiful, supportive posts from people who are nonbinary or have someone who is nonbinary in their lives. The supportive posts don’t make up for the transphobic posts that London skims past, but they’re a great reminder that openly queer celebrities change and save lives.

I wasn’t sure how I felt at first when the book told me that London was assigned female at birth, but I came around to it because it was part of London’s musings and it’s part of their story. As someone who thought I was a straight girl in high school, it’s not like I can say much about London reflecting on a similar period in their life…

Carrie: I experienced the discussion of London’s identity from a different angle, because I am cis-gender and heterosexual, and because I knew very little about what it means to be nonbinary prior to reading this book. It did a great job of explaining what “nonbinary” means, and that different people experience being nonbinary differently, in a way that I could quickly understand. I never felt preached at or talked down to — the information was presented in a character-based, organic manner with a focus on validating every individual’s experience.

Tara: The only thing I hated about this book was one of the sex scenes. Specifically, a sex scene with food involved. London was squeezing nectarine juice all over Dahlia’s body and started fingering her without washing their hands. Dahlia spreads I don’t even know what (the book doesn’t say, but I’m guessing syrup or honey) all over London’s back and starts touching their genitals, also without washing her hands. The whole time I wanted to yell at both of them about yeast infections and bacterial infections, because neither of those are sexy AT ALL. The other sex scenes were hot and full of incredible chemistry. Hell, the chemistry was great in this one too, but I couldn’t stop cringing.

Carrie: OMG, all I could think about in that scene was UTI’s and yeast infections! So cringy, but I also kind of loved the scene because Dahlia couldn’t stop laughing as they experimented with different foods, and London got grumpy because Dahlia wasn’t being serious. From a character standpoint, this seemed so funny but also so much more realistic than some “erotic” scenes I’ve read, in which everyone is deadly serious all the time. I would ABSOLUTELY get the giggles so I liked that. But for goodness sakes, dear readers, do not try this at home!

I was distressed (but not surprised) that the cooking show producers wanted certain things to happen for the sake of a story — a story which essentially erases Dahlia and which puts London in a vulnerable position. I read it as cruel, but also as realistic. Of course the producers want there to be story arcs, and of course they want to create as much polarization as possible to draw in viewers. I believed it but it left me feeling grossed out and worried about London and angry on behalf of Dahlia.

I was also annoyed about Dahlia and London’s big fight. I believed it would happen — their romance happened so fast that not only did they never discuss certain crucial issues, but they also didn’t have a lot of time to do so even if they had remembered to do it. Like my problem with the reality show, I found the fight to be plausible, but it was ugly and it killed the buzz.

Tara: That’s fair, although that bothered you more than me. I found the reality show’s constraints (a lot of hours spent together in a short number of days, knowing they can get sent home at any time, etc.) effective for creating intimacy between London and Dahlia in a way that’s rapid and very intense. And because everything moves so fast, the question of what they’ll do when one of them gets sent home (an inevitability in a show with one winner) is the main angst driver. I agree that the fight between them is ugly, but their makeup and HEA balances that out for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one! Dahlia and London were such wonderful characters, and I’m a big fan of cooking shows, so I know I’ll be reading Love and Other Disasters again. I’ll just be sure to stock snacks next time, because reading about so much amazing food made me hungry.

Carrie: Even with those two things that bugged me, I was delighted with this book overall. The supporting characters were fun (or loathsome, as the plot demanded). The character development was realistic and powerful. The romance was sexy and I can totally picture Dahlia and London as an old couple on a porch somewhere — I was invested in them for the long haul. This will be one of my comfort re-reads for sure!

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