Friday, March 22, 2019

Upside Down by N.R. Walker

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But he when he realises adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

As wordy as my reviews can be, I cannot fully express how much I love this book. I received a review copy of Upside Down on March 10th, the first day of Daylight Saving Time and knowing that Monday was going to rough no matter what I did, I stayed up all night reading it. It was just as well that I planned to stay up because there was no way I could have put the book down before reaching the end because even though I knew that N.R. Walker would make sure that Jordan and Hennessy made it to their happy ending together, I had to know HOW they got there.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever been quite so jealous of a best friend in a book as I am of Merry. You see, Jordan is a perfectly adorkable, socially awkward, mo-fo bomb dropping, introvert book nerd who I would LOVE to be friends with. Although I’m almost twenty years older and gray ace, I identified with Jordan on so many levels that it made for one of the most immersive reading experiences I’ve had in a very long time and left me feeling as though I was saying goodbye to friends when I reached the end of the book – which is probably why I’ve read it twice already and am hoping beyond all hope that Walker already has an audiobook in the works for it. My review on Goodreads for almost two weeks was simply #jordanistoomotherfuckingcute because I couldn’t figure out to express how much I loved Upside Down, but the idea of leaving the usual “Review to be posted.” comment left me aghast because I could not do that to Jordan.

While Jordan is who made the book perfect for me, his courtship with Hennessy is its own level of entertaining. Having a front-row seat to Jordan’s mortification upon realizing that his Headphones Guy and the coordinator of the Asexuality Support Group that Merry forces him to attend was only outdone by his verbal meltdown when he scolds Merry for leaving him alone with Hennessy, unsupervised. I spent so much of this book either grinning like a loon or outright laughing that my face hurt the next day, in the best possible ways. But I went from cringing in embarrassed sympathy with Jordan to that giddy excitement of a fledgling relationship as Jordan and Hennessy make the most of their brief time together on the bus ride home each day. Despite Jordan’s tendency to ramble nervously, Hennessy manages to pull him out of his shell as the two get to know one another with silly questions, quick conversations, and book quotes. That they had a bus full of chaperones who became just as invested in their courtship just made it that much cuter. I adored that even when they began to go out on official dates, their bus ride courtship continued. But don’t let me fool you into thinking the author is skirting cuteness overload because that’s not the case. Nope, Walker serves up plenty of angst because after all, Jordan is not only falling in love, he’s finding out who he is and what it means for him relationship-wise.

Not only is Upside Down an entertaining romance, but Walker does an excellent job of educating readers about asexuality in an organic manner. Between the asexuality support group meetings and conversations between Jordan and Merry, and Jordan and Hennessy, readers learn what it means to be asexual right alongside Jordan as he tries to figure out if it’s the label that fits him. As someone in the asexual tribe, I found that the multiple discussions about how there’s nothing wrong with asexuals, that they’re not broken, and that their normal is just as valid as that of non-asexuals to be very important points and found it quite self-affirming. That said, I’m interested to see how non-Ace readers respond to the repetition or whether they even noticed it. I realize it’s only March, but I have a feeling that Upside Down is going to be my favorite book of the year. It’s definitely my favorite N.R. Walker book, that’s for sure. Okay, I feel like I’m channeling my inner Jordan as I ramble on, trying to express how much I loved, floved, mother-floved this book. It has a permanent position on my re-read list… at least until it comes out on audio, that is. Whether you’re asexual, questioning if you might be, curious about asexuality, or are just looking for a sweet, yet grin-inducing romance between an introverted book nerd and an internet ninja, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Finally, if I can be so bold as to make a request to the author… can we please have a book for Angus, Michael, and Veronica? Pretty, pretty please.

This is a sweet and funny romance. Librarian Jordan tends to ramble when he’s nervous and he can’t seem to stop himself swearing at inappropriate times. Internet ninja Hennessy is just trying to get his life back together after a bad breakup – until he meets Jordan.

Jordan made me laugh so much. He’s a well-meaning hot mess and I’m still not sure how he manages to keep his job. But he’s sweet and funny and I love his obsession with books. Hennessy feels a little bit older, a little bit more mature, and a tiny bit more sensible than Jordan. But he’s scared of getting his heart hurt and determined to hold out for an asexual partner. I love the conversations these two share and their commuter courtship is wonderful.

The other wonderful part of this book involves Jordan and Hennessy’s friends. Merry and Angus are fabulous, and Michael and Vee come into their own at the end. I love ‘family of choice’ stories and I really loved the quirky, memorable people who surround Jordan and Hennessy. Jordan and Hennessy’s bus friends are also a delightful surprise.

The asexual aspect of Jordan and Hennessy’s relationship was a little bit difficult for me to wrap my head around. I can appreciate asexuality on a theoretical level but on a more practical level I found it challenging to untangle romance from sex in this book. I’m aware my experience is a conditioned response – much of the traditional romance story arc is based around sexual chemistry and a buildup of sexual tension. This book challenges and bends some key romance genre tropes and I’m actually glad it pushed me out of my comfort zone. However. I still don’t feel I have a firm understanding of asexuality. As the Ace support group leader, Hennessy gives a couple of long-winded explanations of asexuality that made me even more confused. So, I really enjoyed the book but I will admit that there are several aspects of asexuality that still confuse me and I think I’m always going to want a little sex in my romance.

N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way.

She is many things: a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.

She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things... but likes it even more when they fall in love.

She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.

She’s been writing ever since...

Connect with N.R.

Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Instagram  ~  Website  ~  Goodreads

Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Upside Down by N.R. Walker to read and review.

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