Published by Simon & Schuster on June 6, 2017
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust into the limelight: She’s gone viral.
Her show is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.
And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.
Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?
Why did I read this book? Well, I was drawn to the contrast of the hot-pink hearts and grayscale image of Tolstoy’s face on the cover, in addition to the idea of young adult fiction intersecting with high-culture literary fiction. I checked out this book because I liked the packaging, so I want to give props to all of the people who had a hand in creating the finished version of this product. Sometimes being shallow and judging a book by its cover really pays off.
Set against the backdrop of a teenage Youtube drama series, Tash Hearts Tolstoy poses (and answers) a riveting question fraught with tension: How do you tell someone you want to be with them without actually wanting to be with them (have sex)?
Below is the Youtube series, The Lizzy Bennet Diaries, which gives you an idea of the inspiration for the subplot of Tash Hearts Tolstoy.
When I picked up this book, I had no idea it was going to address (and introduce to many people) the concept of asexuality. The author took this incredibly complex and taboo topic, which usually only exists in the flatline black-and-white print of a gender and sexuality studies textbook, and brought it to vivid, relatable life.
The first time that I can recall learning about asexuality was, indeed, in a women’s studies class. I remember thinking that asexuality sounded a lot like how I felt about guys in junior-high and highschool–I was romantically attracted to them, but had no interest in having actual sex with them. I may be wrong, but I think these are the kind of innocent romantic feelings most girls of that age have. So, initially, it was difficult for me to separate chaste romantic feelings from the concept of asexuality.
According to the American Psychological Association, asexual refers to a person who does not experience sexual attraction or has little interest in sexual activity. In THT, this concept is made visible and explored through the main character, Tash, as she experiences a kaleidoscope of high-school drama, teenage angst, family issues, and Youtube fame. The key differences between a romantic versus a sexual attraction, which are also explored in THT, appear to be time and the origin of feeling. Romantic attraction focuses more on an intellectual and emotional level, while sexual attraction is more concerned with a physiological response. While romantic attraction often leads to sexual attraction, it is not always the case. Someone who identifies as romantic asexual can experience romantic feelings without any sexual aspect attached. An article from the Elite Daily compares sexual vs romantic attraction:
“A romantic attraction isn’t necessarily always about sex. You can feel a romantic attraction to your friends, for instance, and not have an interest in making the relationship a sexual one. People who are not interested in having sex can still be deeply connected to someone on an intellectual and emotional level. You feel a romantic attraction in your head and your heart, and whether or not you physically act on the feelings doesn’t make them any more or less meaningful or real.”
Now this is where things get tricky. Some of you may be thinking but where does the urge to kiss someone originate from? Can a person want to kiss someone, or even date someone for that matter, without being sexually attracted to them? The answer is yes. The urge to kiss or embrace someone is not solely dictated by sexual attraction. These are often expressions of love and romantic feelings.
For those who are still struggling to grasp the concept of asexuality or romantic asexuality, an article in Scientific American provides some additional insight:
“…[S]ome scientists believe that there may be a fourth sexual orientation in our species, one characterized by the absence of desire and no sexual interest in males or females, only a complete and lifelong lacuna of sexual attraction toward any human being (or non-human being). Such people are regarded as asexuals. Unlike bisexuals, who are attracted to both males and females, asexuals are equally indifferent to and uninterested in having sex with either gender. So imagine being a teenager waiting for your sexual identity to express itself, waiting patiently for some intoxicating bolus of lasciviousness to render you as dumbly carnal as your peers, and it just doesn’t happen. These individuals aren’t simply celibate, which is a lifestyle choice. Rather, sex to them is just so … boring.” This entire article is well worth a read.
In THT, Tash struggles through a range of romantic feelings and familial growing pains. Through Tash, readers are taken on a complex yet engrossing journey of what it’s like to be an asexual teenager in a world that revolves around sex. Katherine Ornsbee’s novel is an intense and thought-provoking study of identity and sexuality, intertwined with the kind of fluff and drama that only exists in the dregs of humanity: the comments sections of the internet. The characters are real and relatable, and the plot is fun and utterly refreshing, as is the theme of the novel. In fact, Ornsbee’s novel has the voyeuristic feel that platforms like Youtube thrive on. THT has all of the pull and appeal of a reality-TV drama, but without the ick-factor. Unlike the latter, readers will walk away from this book feeling enlightened–like they gained some brain cells, even empathy.
And just for FUN:
Here is a Youtube video that discusses asexuality. I’m sure there are better ones out there, but here ya go!
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