I can think of no better way to start 2021 at Close Reading Romance than with the first book to knock me off my feet, in the good way, in 2021: You, Me, U.S. by Brigitte Bautista. This book is short without sacrificing depth, bracing and innovative while still speaking with the language of romance tropes. I’m hard pressed to think of another romance I’ve read recently that has taken so seriously that it is a challenge to fall in love and to put yourself – your needs and your happiness – first.
I will absolutely be returning to this book for a full-length post eventually, but I’m also excited for it to kick off a (hopefully) more regular feature: Close Reading Snapshots, quick 2-3 paragraph readings of a passage from a novella and or novel. I’m hoping these Snapshots will offer a little taste of a book’s writing style, maybe encourage folks to pick up something new, and allow me to share a broader picture of what I’m reading this year. While these posts won’t be entirely spoiler-free, they’re still meant for readers unfamiliar with the book, who want to know what they’ll find from the writing if they pick it up.
So, before I make this “snapshot” too unnecessarily long, here’s a cover image and book summary:
Best friends Jo and Liza are as opposite as night and day. Sex worker Jo swears by the worry-free, one-day-at-a-time dance through life. Salesclerk Liza has big plans for her family’s future, and there is nothing bigger than a one-way trip to the U.S. But an almost-kiss, a sex dare, and news of Liza’s engagement to her American boyfriend unveil feelings Jo and Liza never thought they had. Deciding between staying together and drifting apart puts Liza’s best-laid plans and Jo’s laidback life in jeopardy.
When love clashes with lifelong ambitions and family expectations, someone has to give in.
Question is: who?
The snapshot quote comes from the low moment of the book. It’s in Jo’s POV, as she faces the reality of Liza leaving Manila for the US:
She didn’t know if she wanted to set fire to her memories of Liza or build a dictionary of apologies and I love yous and change your mind, please.
I can give you the life you want. I love you. Please come back.
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
I picked this line out of all the others I could have highlighted because I loved the metaphor of a dictionary of ways to bring back someone you love, as well as the idea that such a dictionary would need to be built, not just consulted.
There’s a beautiful rhythm to the first sentence that comes out of packing three disparate elements into the grammatical framework of “a dictionary of” :
I love yous
change your mind, please.
I appreciate the choice NOT to separate these elements with commas, or to wrap the latter two in neat quotation marks (“I love yous”) or italics (change your mind, please) to make them fit into the sentence as a unit. Instead, like Jo’s emotions, they run together chaotically, suggesting just how eclectic and broad-ranging her “dictionary of getting Liza back” will need to be.
This book accomplishes a rare thing in romance: while it offers a happy ending, along the way it fully commits to the possibility that Liza and Jo might not get back together. We have that possibility in the passage: it’s just as likely that Jo will burn her past down as it is that she’ll rebuild with Liza. That tension isn’t resolved yet, which you can feel in the knife-edge tension of the next two lines: admissions of love crafted from Jo’s dictionary, I can give you the life you want. I love you. Please come back… and their immediate destruction. Backspace, backspace, backspace.
Some other things you’ll find if you choose to pick up this book:
- Friends-to-lovers pining and angst
- Two MCs who enjoy sex lives with other partners while slowly falling in love
- Prose that makes great use of the setting and surroundings (there are a number of passages where Jo is so deeply denying her feelings that she projects them onto the objects and setting around her and it’s a *fascinating* bit of character work)
- A portrait of sex work that isn’t shame-y
- Clever subversion of romance tropes: particularly toxic ideals of cis male capitalist saviors as a means to HEA.
If you have read this, or plan to, let me know in the comments! My head is still full of this book, and I can’t wait to talk about it more.