Friday, August 24, 2018

Bashe, Gift of Your Love (2018)

Kayla Bashe, The Gift of Your Love. Less Than Three Press, 2018. Pp. 69. ISBN 978-1-684313-00-6. $2.99.

Reviewed by Psyche Z. Ready

Kayla Bashe has written over a dozen books, most of them queer romance/speculative fiction. Bashe is also a gifted poet, and the internet is positively littered with their poetry and short fiction. They self-describe as a “disabled queer badass” who writes about “themes of hope and community.” They have a small but loyal following, decent tumblr fame, and after reading this book, I can understand why. The Gift of Your Love is a quick, fun adventure romp that left me feeling good and I can’t wait to read more. But for me, the strength of this novella is its honest and heartening portrayal of neurodiversity.

This is a short—69 page—fantasy about a group of women who are gifted with different supernatural powers. There is little exposition or introduction to their world, their history, or the nature of their gifts; it begins in medias res so that the reader is seat-of-your-pants whisked off on the adventure. This book is very much character-driven. Each of the four very likeable main characters is complex, imperfect, and funny. Although they are on a dangerous mission to take down evil forces that threaten their community, the dialogue is never overly serious—it is, in fact, like most conversations between women friends: full of laughter, sarcasm, and care. And it was such a pleasure to read how these women always have each others’ backs.

Each character is working against certain obstacles. The main character, Neely, is recovering from past trauma and abuse; Forester, the love interest, has OCD and intrusive thoughts, Libby has a severe allergy, and Gen, an older woman, needs help with physical tasks. I loved Gen. In my opinion, there is a dearth of powerful, sexy, funny older women in fantasy novels.

Perhaps many readers will walk away from this story crushing on the love interest, fascinated by the superpowers, or just emboldened by a group of women working together to protect their community. For myself, however, I’ll take away something different—I have OCD and intrusive thoughts, and I was overjoyed to meet the character Forester. OCD is typically mismanaged and misunderstood by popular media—think the TV show Monk or casual declarations of “I’m so OCD!” when someone is neat. But Bashe deftly and tenderly handles Forester’s experience of anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
She was so delicate and adorable and Forester was so scared. Her heart beat so rapidly she felt dizzy, and her jaw hurt from clenching it. She pulled a strip of loose skin off her thumb. Pulled further, until it bled. What is she going to do when she finds out I’m a bad person?
Forester’s inner monologue is painfully and brilliantly accurate. But what I love—oh, I love it!—about the story is how Bashe surrounds Forester with friends who have found a healthy way to deal with their friend’s OCD. It clearly bothers her friends—of course—and they don’t understand it. But they never tell her she’s wrong, or to stop being herself. They accept it. This made me, as a reader with OCD, feel not only like a more normal person, but also that I deserve to have friends that treat me as well as Forester’s cousin Libby treats her. What Bashe has accomplished through this narrative, and these characters, is significant and long overdue.

The story at heart is a gentle f/f falling-in-love story without any explicit sex, but with some delicious sexual tension and flirting. It’s a finding-your-people story, and about the importance of community. Bashe’s prose is clean and unobtrusive, and at moments touchingly emotionally honest and artful.

As I said, this is a very short book, and it feels a bit underdeveloped. I also have to say it is sort of goofy—in the very first scene, the main character is swept up by a tentacle monster! Those weaknesses, however, are overcome by the heartwarming, fun narrative that is never for a moment heavy-handed. This book is polished; it’s obvious Bashe has more stories in their future, and I look forward to reading them!

I recommend it to those looking for sweet f/f, good #ownvoices neurodiversity, and tentacle monsters.

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