Queer YA Spotlight: The Falling in Love Montage

Premise: Saoirse (and that’s “Seer-sha”, and she will fight you on this) has enough heartache to last her a lifetime. She doesn’t know how long her own lifetime will be, reeling from the knowledge that early onset dementia runs in her family, and she could end up forgetting who she is by age fifty. Her childhood best friend turned girlfriend broke up with her, fracturing their friend group and leaving Saoirse angry and adrift. The path seems simple: no relationships, no close human connections, and no one gets hurt.

But then along comes Ruby. She suggests a relationship with a pre-arranged expiration date, and one that only involves all the fun parts: the cheesy falling in love montage from the middle of the movie, as it were. It’s no-strings-attached, Ruby’s cute, and as long as Saoirse doesn’t open her heart and bear her feelings about anything serious it will all go off without a hitch. Right?

Rainbow rep: an f/f romance between two lesbian characters, queer background cast (mostly in the form of the ex-girlfriend)

Content considerations: depictions of parents in hospital, parents with deteriorating mental health, general existential dread

I will be 101% honest: I came for the self-aware, sapphic take on the classic clichés of romantic comedies. I came for the “oho, you say you’re not going to fall in love, but you totally are” romantic tension. And I did get both of those. But I also got hit upside the head with a narrative about how life’s impermanence is what makes it meaningful, and that we should always let ourselves live and be loved no matter the risks.

Which. Damn.

Saoirse is a great character who I think will ring true to a lot of readers, both of the target demographic and older. She’s extremely funny, and her first-person narration is peppered with observational snark and clever turns of descriptive phrase that gets you giggling. The humour makes you connect with her despite her being such a standoffish, angry person, and also serves to draw you into her world before the big reveal that she’s terrified of losing control over her own body and mind and is basically careening daily through existential dread.

It’s a deeply personal matter for Saoirse, but this sense of looming melancholy and fury she feels is resonant with a lot of the Gen Z and Millennial experience. That question of “why plan for the future if the future is so bleak and uncertain?” hangs over a lot of people who have grown up in the weird, unstable world of the twenty-first century. There is a buzzing, ever-present sense of a lack of agency over our own lives. Maybe it’s because of what’s in your genetics, maybe it’s because of financial situation, maybe it’s because you’re deeply aware that the long-building effects of climate change could compound at any given time and reduce the world to rubble. So what’s the point of making plans, of having long-term goals, of learning skills, of forming relationships, if they’re all inevitably going to go up in smoke?

All this leaves is a sense of ennui, possibly coupled with a deep rage and confusion at the parents who brought you into this world knowing what you were going to inherit. And this is where we find Saoirse: abrasive, sarcastic, locked in an awkward and antagonistic rapport with her dad—who made the decision to put Saoirse’s deteriorating mother in a full-time care home. And, most importantly for Saoirse as a romance protagonist, we find her deeply resistant to commitment and connection. She even has a rule that she’ll only kiss straight girls who are “experimenting”, because she loathes the idea of attraction that might be reciprocal because that might lead to Something Serious and Complicated. But then, of course, in walks Ruby, with her cute freckles and her “falling in love montage” plan.

Ruby also feels very real and very evocative of that Gen Z uncertainty, but in a more optimistic way to Saoirse. Or rather, she’s a very entertaining and interesting mix of optimistic and pragmatic—two traits that don’t tend to go together. She has no idea what she wants to do with her life, so she earnestly considers every career path that comes up in conversation. She acknowledges that romcoms are cheesy and sometimes sexist and flawed, but accepts all that and sings her love for them anyway. She happily suggests a compromise to Saoirse’s fear of commitment with her proposal of a summer romance with a set end date, seeing no problem with such a rational and logical arrangement if it involves all parties having fun.

It’s not so much fake dating as something like the setup to How Do We Relationship?: a romance that develops sort of topsy-turvy because it begins with the very structured and deliberate construction of a relationship, and then the characters grow closer to one another within that scaffold. Ruby and Saorise are very cute and have a fun chemistry, with a good mix of bantery dialogue and down-to-earth conversations. They get their corny rom-com moments, both deliberately manufactured and entirely by accident.

The Falling in Love Montage doesn’t just have its characters point and say “look, we’re doing the trope!” and have that be the end of the “self-aware” comedy. It takes those tropes and has a meaningful look at them, giving them the queer twist they deserve and folding them into a story that felt like a genuinely meaningful and clever exploration of young love and coming-of-age stories.

While the narrative never invalidates Saoirse’s anger and fear, in the end the philosophy of the book ends up aligning more with Ruby. Yes, things end. Yes, the future is uncertain. No, to some degree we aren’t in control of the way our lives will go. But isn’t that all the more reason to seize the day when you can, to treat each day as the precious thing it is? Just because a relationship doesn’t last ‘til death do you part, it doesn’t mean your feelings weren’t real and those memories aren’t worth treasuring. Just because you might forget this moment one day, it doesn’t mean the moment wasn’t worth living in.

The way this thematic throughline comes to a head is just the right mix of sappy and poignant. It hits all the right romance clichés, reminding us why those big lovey-dovey moments of self-actualisation have become clichés in the first place. And it’s a cliché in and of itself to say this book “made me laugh and made me cry”, but I swear this time it’s true. If you want to fall in love with romance through a novel that’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming, definitely give this one a read.

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Filed under Alex Reads

8 responses to “Queer YA Spotlight: The Falling in Love Montage

  1. Caitlin Stern

    Great review! Putting this on hold at my library right now.

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  4. “I came for the “oho, you say you’re not going to fall in love, but you totally are” romantic tension. And I did get both of those.” – Oh oh oh!

    “Just because you might forget this moment one day, it doesn’t mean the moment wasn’t worth living in.” – No, but this though! I will definitely add this book to my tbr pile for when my brain starts cooperating again!

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