I Love You Just the Way You Are (Riley Rian)

I Love You Just the Way You Are is the first novel in the Rock Canyon series by Riley Rian.
Finished on: 18.8.2022
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer give-away.]

Content Note: (critical treatment of) transmisia

Maddie wants to spend her summer working at the café in peace before school starts again, where she will return after a home-schooling break during her transition. But her peace is short-lived when star-quaterback Kellan starts coming to the café – and tries to hit on Maddie. It’s not that Maddie hasn’t been dreaming about Kellan forever, but she is worried: does he even know that she is trans? And if not, what will he think when he finds out? And anyway, he has a reputation of having a new girl every week. So she rather blows him off than flirt. But Kellan doesn’t give up so easily. Or at all.

I Love You Just the Way You Are is wonderful when it comes to trans representation, but I struggled a little with Kellan as the romantic lead. Still, despite being a bit of a bumpy read, it is almost compulsively readable and has its heart in its right place.

The book cover showing a painting of young girl sitting on a skateboard.

From what I gather, I Love You Just the Way You Are is not only the first novel Rian has written, but she didn’t have much writing experience beforhand in general. And I will say that it is a little notable – at first I thought they must be very young themself, but it appears that she is just young at writing. The writing here is not particularly polished, with some odd phrasing here and there.

But it doesn’t need to be. It can compensate a lot with how it just wears its heart on its sleeve. Rian, who is also trans (and judging from the afterword, she is as of yet undecided whether she is a woman or non-binary or both, maybe they won’t decide), obviously set out to write the kind of story that she could have used herself when they were younger, and it shows in every word. That is absolutely lovely and gives the book a really sweet glow. [The wording may not always be up to current community standards, as far as I can tell as a cis person. There is a lot of talk of male and female bodies, for example, but that’s not that important either, I think.]

Maddie has a supportive family, but the rest of her environment is (unfortunately realistically) unsupportive, meaning there are some rather harsh scenes, so you need to be prepared for that. Other than that, though, the book is extremely fluffy, with only a moderate amount of anxiety.

I couldn’t really throw myself into the fluff, though, because I did struggle with Kellan a little. He is extremely determined and doesn’t take no for an answer. And while I understand why his unrelenting pursuit of Maddie is attractive for somebody who is so unsure of whether they will actually be loved as they are as Maddie is, I also found it deeply problematic how Kellan keeps waltzing over Maddie’s boundaries (starting with how he keeps hounding her in her place of work, something they both literally call harassment but seem to think nothing more of it in the long run), and with the support of Maddie’s family to boot which just made it extra-creepy for me. They can be all convinced that Maddie’s protective walls are too high and too uncrackable and she needs to let people in, but it is not their place to tear them down. It would be one thing if Maddie’s family had a heart-to-heart with her and convinced her that she should give Kellan a chance, it is quite another to invite Kellan to family dinner and force Maddie to attend, too. And that is just one of many examples of this kind of boundary crossing that keeps happening over and over again.

But despite my misgivings about the romance and how it evolves, there is no denying that the trans representation here is really great. Maddie is a fully-rounded character, whose entire character is informed by, but not limited to being trans. There is a very lovely sex scene that I think would be very affirming for me if I was trans, in the frank and loving way that it addresses body parts. I also loved that Maddie wasn’t the only queer girl in the novel – we queer people do have a tendency to flock together, knowingly or not, and it was nice to see that Maddie’s best friend Destiny (who sounds a little stereotypically Black, I’m afraid) is pan, and we get another coming out in the course of the novel. [Since this is announced as the first novel in a series, maybe Destiny and the freshly out of the closet character will be the focus of the next novel. I’d like that, as they do get the short end of the stick here.]

I Love You Just the Way You Are may not be a great book, but with its heartfelt earnesty, and the wonderful trans representation, it is still worth a read.

Summarizing: very sweet.

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