Close Reading Snapshot: Our Favorite Songs by Anita Kelly

Hello! It has been… a while. Summer projects and the start of a new semester took over my life for a few months, but I’m happy to be resurrecting the blog with a look at a novella I recently enjoyed. Our Favorite Songs is the second novella in a series (after Sing Anyway, which I also adored) and follows Aiden McCarstle and Kai Andrews- former high-school-nemeses/secret-mutual-crushes- as they reconnect with each other over karaoke and a freak snowstorm. Here’s a closer look at the cover and blurb:

Restless and disillusioned with his life, Aiden McCarstle is ready for a night out at The Moonlight Café with his best friend Penelope: one night to not think about how much he hates grad school, to watch queer people make fools of themselves singing karaoke. A simple, reliable escape.

But when it’s not Penelope who walks through the door at Moonie’s, but the high school nemesis Aiden hasn’t seen in five years—well, things get a little more complicated.

For Kai Andrews, moving back home after his mother’s death has been harder and lonelier than he anticipated. And running into McCarstle again hadn’t been in his plans, either. But he deserves a night out, away from responsibilities and grief. Sure, it appears McCarstle still hates his guts, for reasons Kai has never quite understood. But maybe, with a decent dose of pop music and Moonie’s magic, Kai can finally, finally make Aiden smile. Just this once. Just for tonight.

As a surprising, intimate night at Moonie’s brings Aiden and Kai closer together, a winter storm moves in. And what was meant to be a simple night out turns into over 24 hours of being snowed in together. Through confessions, memories, and favorite poems, Aiden and Kai have to figure out if this unexpected second chance at connection was merely a temporary interlude—or if they can each come out better on the other side of the storm.

Cover image and blurb from the author’s website. A helpful list of CWs can be found in Leigh’s review here.

The passage I’ve picked happens at about the 45% mark, and it’s one of my favorite moments in a romance I’ve read in a while. Kai and Aiden are about to have sex with each other for the first time. Aiden has been deploying the classic romance misdirection of “let’s just fuck without feelings,” and suddenly, Kai isn’t having it. He demands to know why they’re about to get physical. When Aiden doesn’t have a ready response, Kai steps in with an answer to his own question. He mentions Aiden’s brilliance, the poems he wrote in high school, how their mutual friends care for him, and this:

“It’s like you only show who you are sometimes. Like you’re scared of it. Or maybe you only show it to the people you trust. Which is fine, but you never, ever let me see it in high school. Until tonight, when you did surprising things, like sing karaoke, and…kiss me […] And when you let yourself go, you’re so…bright, and funny, and interesting. And it makes me want to crack you right open, so I can see that all the time. I bet when you fuck, you let yourself be like that. So that’s why I want to fuck you.”

I like the sound of the prose here – there’s some nice iterative work that builds without seeming repetitive. But what I appreciate the most about this passage is the boldness of it existing in the first place. I’ve talked elsewhere about how one of the hardest marks for a romance novel to hit is proving that the MCs are right for each other, why they make more sense together than they would separately, or with someone else. That might even harder to pull of when it comes to why they’re going to sleep together for the first time. Often that hurdle to first intimacy is cleared through sheer physical desire, a kind of mysterious alchemy of attraction that doesn’t need explaining. Depending on how it’s done, that can work extremely well, but I think it can also be a shortcut to avoid working out the whys of a couple.

Kai and Aiden’s story is one that sets itself up as needing an explicit “why.” Kai has expressed concern that Aiden only thinks of him as a “dumb jock.” Aiden struggles with anxiety over the choices he has made in life, particularly his choice to go to grad school. This idea that sex is a choice Aiden and Kai will make together, and not just for reasons of physical attraction, speaks really eloquently to who they are as characters and what they need from each other. The decision to have the characters articulate their why, out-loud to each other, on-page, could have come across as awkward, or heavy-handed. But it works here not just because it’s well-written, but also because it’s been built up as a necessity. It’s something the characters need from each other as much as the readers need it from the narrative, and it pulls both those needs together seamlessly.

I will tease you a little bit by saying that Aiden does, eventually, answer Kai’s question himself. And his answer is nothing like Kai’s – it has to be, otherwise it might sound like a perfunctory copy of the other man’s eloquence. So it’s different. But it’s perfect, too.

I recommend picking up this novella for:

  • A loving homage to some ultimate comfort tropes: snowed in, second chance, rivals-to-lovers
  • Really nice use of songs and poems as intertext (even when they can’t be directly quoted)
  • A quick shot of angst that’ll give you some good achy feelings without destroying you
  • Lyrical, impressionistic flashbacks that help fill in the MCs’ complicated pasts without overburdening a short narrative
  • If you’ve read Sing Anyway, a fun cameo from Lily and Sam!

Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter, if you’ve picked this one up and enjoyed it!

*Disclosure: I received an ARC from the author*

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