Today we pause to remember Corey Alexander. Corey was one of the earliest supporters of RomBkPod. Their advocacy for content warnings and compassionate representation in romance has guided RBP from day one.
Earlier this year, it was a privilege to interview Corey on the subject of neurodivergent rep in romance. Today we share this interview again, along with a new transcription, in the spirit of inclusiveness and accessibility that made Corey an invaluable member of the romance community.
“MORE CINNAMON ROLL DOMS, PLEASE”
This week Ana hosts the podcast with guest Corey Alexander as we discuss neurodivergent representation in romance
EP 129 HOST
> ANA COQUI (she/her) A lifelong genre reader, Ana grew up reading fantasy, sci-fi & mystery novels in Puerto Rico, before finally wandering into the romance section of the library in search of HEA’s after bawling through one too many dystopian novels. When she is not reading, knitting, writing about romance for Love in Panels or running #RomBkLove on Twitter as @anacoqui, Ana is a school librarian
EP 129 GUEST
> COREY ALEXANDER (they/them/their) is an autistic fat queer white Jewish genderqueer writer and book blogger with multiple disabilities who spends too much time on Twitter. They run a book blog, Corey’s Book Corner, and write kinky queer romance as Xan West. You can visit Corey’s blog at https://coreysbookcorner.wordpress.com/. You can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram @TGStoneButch
EP 129 DISCUSSION
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
> NOTE: This discussion was recorded in late March during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic
> Content Warning: This conversation features frequent mentions of ableism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and grief
> NOTE: April is Autism Pride Month or Autism Acceptance Month
> Corey refers to the Ravenswood series by Talia Hibbert which we’ll discuss in more detail later in the episode
> Corey refers to An Unseen Attraction by K.J Charles, a RomBkPod favorite
> Ana mentions Whiteout by Adriana Anders
> Title: Whip, Stir and Serve
Author: Caitlyn Frost and Henry Drake
Relation to theme: Autism rep, anxiety rep
Representation: Autistic authors, autistic MC, queer MCs, anxiety rep, fat rep
Content Warnings: BDSM, kink
>> Corey’s interview with the authors
>>> MORE CINNAMON ROLL DOMS PLEASE
> Title: A Duke By Default (Reluctant Royals #2)
Author: Alyssa Cole
Relation to theme: ADHD rep
Representation: Author with ADHD, Black author, Black MC, Chilean-Scottish biracial MC, MC with ADHD
Content Warnings: internalized ableism, toxic family
>> Corey’s interview with the author
> Corey mentions the book Connection Error by Annabeth Albert
> Title: Untouchable (Ravenswood #2)
Author: Talia Hibbert
Relation to theme: Autism rep, depression rep
Representation: Autistic author, Black author, queer author, disabled author, autistic MC, Black MC, queer MC, white MC, MCs with depression, fat rep
Content Warnings: depression, terminal illness, chronic illness
>> Corey’s interview with the author
> Title: Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1)
Author: Alisha Rai
Relation to theme: Depression rep
Representation: Desi author, Japanese American & Native Hawaiian biracial MC, MC with depression, white MC, MC with PTSD
Content Warnings: depression, grief, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, past car accident (off-page), past arson (off-page), toxic family, brief reference to Japanese internment
>> We can’t talk about the Forbidden Hearts series without mentioning our beloved Jackson from book two, Wrong to Need You!
> Title: Invitation to the Blues (Small Change #2)
Author: Roan Parrish
Relation to theme: Depression rep, possible autism rep
Representation: White author, Jewish author, queer MCs, white MC, Black MC, MC with depression, PTSD, and sensory sensitivity
Content Warnings: depression, suicidal thoughts, internalized ableism, past abusive relationship, confrontation with past abuser
> For a complete list of Corey’s autism rep in romance recommendations please visit their website
> NOTE: Unfortunately the very end of our conversation with Corey was cut off due to internet connection issues, but we are so happy they were able to join us to discuss neurodivergent representation in romance. Thank you, Corey!
> Which favorite neurodivergent romances did we miss? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram @RomBkPod
EP 129 MUSIC CREDIT
Music: “Lift Off” by Jahzzar
From the Free Music Archive
CC BY-SA 3.0
TRANSCRIPT STARTS HERE
Ana [00:00:02] Welcome to RomBkPod! I’m your host, Ana Coqui. This week I’m joined today by Corey Alexander. Corey Alexander is a writer, reviewer, and just all-around awesome person on Twitter. And I’ve asked them today to come and talk to me about neurodivergent rep. Welcome, Corey.
Corey [00:00:23] Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Ana [00:00:26] So, Corey, you’re autistic and so I really respect the work you do on Twitter, sometimes educating us about rep. I know that that can be also quite a lot of stress, and I would say, frankly, sometimes frustrating, but I want to first start off by saying thank you for doing that work.
Corey [00:00:46] Aw, thanks.
Ana [00:00:46] Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about neurodivergent rep in romance. Before we get started, what do we mean by neurodivergent rep? What does that mean for you?
Corey [00:00:57] So, I mean, when I see neurodivergent, I think of the neurodiversity movement as a concept that’s about connecting people whose brains work a little bit differently in lots of different ways. So, it’s about connecting folks who are autistic with folks who have ADHD and learning disabilities, with folks who are dealing with mental illness of all different sorts. It’s about saying that we’re all kind of in we’re in some kind of connection together in that our brains work a little bit differently. And so that’s, that when I think of neurodivergent representation, it’s like really wide and vast. And, um, so it was a little, it was a lot to be like, OK, I need to come up with a very few reps for neurodivergent, when it’s like, um, when it’s a really big idea for me.
Ana [00:01:57] Yeah, to be fair audience, I said, oh, five or six…
Ana [00:02:03] Which I realized. Yeah. Really big ask. So, thank you.
[00:02:05] And of course, if there’s others you want to talk about, feel free.
Corey [00:02:13] You know, like my lists on my blog sometimes get to be like 50 books. So I’m also someone who, who goes for more rather than less. So, you get me down to five or six and that’s amazing.
Ana [00:02:25] Well, I really respect that. I’ll be very interested to see everything that you recommend for us today. Yeah, I really love your definition of that wider connection, but I think it sometimes can be very narrowly discussed. And I think it leaves a lot of room for people to find themselves and to sort of recognize the the ways that they might not fit a particular mold. Right. Which can be sometimes harder to see in romance.
Corey [00:02:54] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. No, I mean, I think I think you’re, you’re right and that, that’s something that people really do discuss it narrowly or use it kind of as a code for autistic, in particular.
Ana [00:03:09] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:03:09] And so instead of saying autistic, they’ll say neurodivergent, but what they really mean is autistic.
Corey [00:03:17] And so I think it’s, it’s partly a way of trying to get away from language that maybe folks are a little uncomfortable with, you know, like the same way that folks will sometimes use words like handicapable instead of, uh, disabled.
Ana [00:03:34] Or they’ll say POC instead of saying Black.
Corey [00:03:38] Yes.
Ana [00:03:38] Or Latina. Right, because we’re sort of some more comfortable with that generalization rather than just naming something that almost feels like, oh, we’re labeling, right?
Corey [00:03:48] Yeah. And I think in particular, with any kind of disability, there’s a real, there’s a there’s a real fraught kind of thing about whether you talk about people with disabilities or disabled people or autistic people or people with autism. That person-first language is something that some people are really invested in and then some people are really invested in identity-first language. And there can be a lot of headbutting around it like, I think. And partly that’s about, about being uncomfortable with the with the label is that some people are like it’s we have to make sure that everyone knows we think you’re a person.
Corey [00:04:30] And so we want to say people with disability, we want to say people with autism. And there are a lot of autistic people who are like, “no, I am an autistic person” and “I really care about naming this as my identity”. Yeah.
Ana [00:04:47] Yeah. And I feel like, honestly, a lot of times there is what, like that unnamed and stealth rep and romance where something is. Like, they have sensory issues, but we don’t talk about them directly or that person’s really awkward. But are they awkward? Are they autistic? And we’re just not talking about it, which I have to say, it probably feels really uncomfortable.
Corey [00:05:14] Yeah. I mean, I think that there is a range of what you’re talking about. There’s a lot of things that are unanswered. And I think that there’s different ways that they’re unnamed. Like, there’s things that feel like where it’s like we’re using a code where we’re. And I often talk about coded autistic rep where it’s like really about someone being we’re using these, like, signals to say we’re gonna, we’re gonna point this person as autistic and then we’re going to usually do that in a way that’s really about promoting us various different kinds of stereotypes about autism. And then there is like the kind of thing where it’s like folks are maybe afraid to use the direct language. And so they kind of skirt around it and they’re a long, comfortable. And it’s not clear whether it’s because the-
Ana [00:06:09] Deniability maybe?
[00:06:12] author is, yeah, nervous about it. But I think it’s also that there are a lot of folks who don’t get diagnosed. Right. And I don’t have access to diagnosis of all different kinds of things like ADHD and autism and mental illness. And there are ways that particular communities, especially marginalized communities, really, you know, a lot of folks might not actually be thinking of themselves as autistic or as having ADHD because they haven’t had access to that kind of information about themselves.
Ana [00:06:48] Right.
Corey [00:06:48] And I don’t like it. I don’t want to say, like, never naming it on the pages is always wrong, right, because I think sometimes it can be really reflective of the reality of what’s of what’s going on in the world right now, which is that a lot of folks of color, for example, a lot of folks who are assigned female at birth, are often really not getting diagnosis autistic and as having ADHD in particular in childhood. They just don’t they don’t have access to that because of stereotypical labels.
Ana [00:07:21] Right. So their relationship to that label will be very different.
Corey [00:07:25] Absolutely. So when I interviewed Talia Hibbert about her, the autistic rep that she had written in her series set in a small town, um, there’s a couple, there’s a family. So one book is a girl. I think it’s called A Girl Like Her, and that has the character Ruth, who is named on the page autistic. And then sister Hannah has another book, and she isn’t named on the page as autistic because how she presents, she wouldn’t have gotten diagnosed.
Ana [00:08:04] Right.
Corey [00:08:05] Right?
Ana [00:08:06] Right. Right.
Corey [00:08:06] That doesn’t mean that she’s not autistic. Right. You know, when I asked Talia about it, she’s again, she would be autistic. And their mom, too. Yes. That mom would also be autistic. But only Ruth would have been diagnosed.
Ana [00:08:18] Right.
Corey [00:08:18] And so that Ruth would get on the page. Yeah.
Ana [00:08:21] Well, we see that, too, sometimes with like books where they’re set in a historical time period where there wasn’t that definition. But they were they’re clearly exhibiting certain behaviors. How we recognize those autistic and people-
Corey [00:08:37] Absolutely. There’s a great. Yeah. Do you feel like it’s possible to represent autistic characters in a way that where maybe you don’t need it on the page, but it doesn’t have to be kind of deflected on to this other thing that all that is-
Ana [00:08:58] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:08:59] Demonized. Right?
Ana [00:08:59] Right.
Corey [00:08:59] That you can have other kinds of you know, these are ones that I was going to name. But, you know, since we’re talking about this, like-
Ana [00:09:07] Yeah.
Corey [00:09:08] An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles is a really good example.
Ana [00:09:10] Right.
Corey [00:09:10] You have Clem who’s, who’s both dyspraxic. And also, I would say he was autistic. You know, the author has named dyspraxia in particular, but I read a lot of what he was experiencing is also him being autistic.
Ana [00:09:25] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:09:25] Um, and it definitely felt like, like, that, that was held in a way where he was, yes, he was experiencing ableism, but he wasn’t, uh, it didn’t have the same kind of Intensity around self-loathing that, that-
Ana [00:09:43] Right. That he received an awful lot of abuse from family members, but-
Corey [00:09:47] Yes.
Ana [00:09:48] He himself sort of loved himself and accepted-
Corey [00:09:51] Yes.
Ana [00:09:52] Himself, and it was mostly getting safe and being around people that also accepted him, uh, and cared for him in that way.
Corey [00:10:00] Yeah…
Ana [00:10:00] I think, yeah. Thank you for bringing that one up. I think that’s a, that’s a very interesting contrast to take into presenting neurodivergence uh, without it being harmful in an intersecting way.
Corey [00:10:15] Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think it’s you know, sometimes I think it makes sense to not name it on the page. But I think with contemporary, often it does make sense to name it, and I wish more authors did.
Ana [00:10:32] But there’s also sometimes like cultural, uh, differences in how people name things, right? Um-
Corey [00:10:37] Yeah.
Ana [00:10:38] Where there’s quite a lot of different somehow things are diagnosed here in the United States versus in Europe and uh-.
Corey [00:10:45] Yeah.
Ana [00:10:45] You know, I recently read Whiteout and I struggled reading it, that’s by Adriana Anders, because I was like at first, I’m like-
Corey [00:10:54] Yeah.
Ana [00:10:54] Their not naming it! They’re just naming the sensory issue, and there’s, there’s a little bit of, uh, magic vagina action happening, but, uh, yeah. But I was sort of like, what’s going on here? Why why is this character not being named as autistic when they’re showing all these elements of autism? And then I, I found out that, you know, it’s sort of based on a parent’s experience of a child does not qualified, not diagnosed as autistic, but experiences sensory issues. And I was like, oh, OK. So that sort of spoke to me of the, the, the wide divergence of experience with the labels, and…
Corey [00:11:33] Sure.
Ana [00:11:36] It made me sort of pause, like, OK, I’m not going to judge it necessarily because it’s not naming, but maybe because there is magic vagina. So…
Corey [00:11:44] Yeah. Yeah I haven’t read that one yet, but it’s on my list and I think you mentioned it. I think you might’ve metioned it-
Ana [00:11:50] Yeah.
Corey [00:11:50] Or somebody who was asking me specifically about the autism representation.
Ana [00:11:55] Right. I asked if there was own voice rep reviews out and somebody tagged you in it and I was like, I wasn’t going to make Corey do work.
Corey [00:12:06] Yeah. Now, I made some you know, actually, I have it now. I have I haven’t gotten to it yet. Um, It’s hard to read these days-
Ana [00:12:15] Yeah, yeah.
Corey [00:12:17] My focus is just a little more difficult to focus on, on reading.
Ana [00:12:22] And all the listeners who are listening-.
Corey [00:12:24] This particular historical moment.
Ana [00:12:26] Wanting to listen to about books because you can’t read them, we get you. We are talking about books because we can’t read them.
Corey [00:12:37] <laughter> Exactly. Yeah.
Ana [00:12:40] So let’s talk about some of your favorite books with neurodivergent rep.
Corey [00:12:46] Sure, OK.
Ana [00:12:46] You start with whichever one you want to talk about. We’ll go from there.
Corey [00:12:50] OK. So, um, we’ve been talking a lot about artistic rep, so I’m going to name one of my most favorite right books with autistic rep. And that’s called, It’s, it’s a novelette, it’s Whip, Stir, and Served by Caitlyn Frost and Henry Drake. And it’s a short, contemporary, kinky meet, cute romance. There’s an autistic main character who also has anxiety and who sort of has this ongoing conversation with the person behind the meat counter at the supermarket. But there’s a lot of hit and miss, because she’s not understanding that he’s flirting with her.
Ana [00:13:34] OK.
Corey [00:13:34] And then there’s a bunch of stuff that happens that makes it…makes it, creates this opportunity for the meet-cute to actually really kind of come together for them. And, you know, a lot and lot of it’s about her having a meltdown in the supermarket.
Ana [00:13:55] OK.
Corey [00:13:55] And…I really loved the the way that, that was depicted because it wasn’t like, It wasn’t like he, you know, was perfect and knew exactly what to do.
Ana [00:14:10] Mm-hm.
[00:14:10] And was like he was a little thrown. He did the best he could. And she was, you know, and she also was doing the best she could and managing it. And, and it felt really real because, yeah, sometimes you have a meltdown in the supermarket.
Corey [00:14:26] Like, that’s life. Right, and the you know, and the idea that, like, they could connect and that it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be a thing that would deter the meet-cute, that it could be-
Ana [00:14:43] Right.
Corey [00:14:45] You know, it could just be part of it.
Ana [00:14:47] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:14:47] And that it it’s not because he, you know, it is magic.
Ana [00:14:53] Mm-hm.
[00:14:53] And, you know, it’s an autism whisperer and knows exactly what to do or whatever. But, you know, he knows a little bit about anxiety and so he’s he’s hoping, you know, he, he has some knowledge and he, you know, is also just really respectful of her. And this, is the Owen Voices novelette. And it’s and it’s very hot. It’s got a lot of lovely BDSM in it and-.
Ana [00:15:20] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:15:20] And it was written by two autistic authors and, and it just feels like this level of real that, um, I don’t see a lot in autism rep and in romance. So it it makes me really happy that it exists.
Ana [00:15:40] Yeah. I would say, you know, that the disaster meet-cute you do it is a thing.
Corey [00:15:44] Yeah.
Ana [00:15:44] And for it to incorporate the fact that it’s something that this is a fact of life, people have meltdowns.
Corey [00:15:51] Yep.
Ana [00:15:52] And this will not be the last meltdown that they have together.
Corey [00:15:55] No. <laughter>
Ana [00:15:57] That’s a nice element. I think of, you know, like for me happily ever after doesn’t mean, your problems are solved and things are never going to be difficult. But then you face things that happened because they happened with you together. Right. And so, yeah, I can see the real the appeal of that kind of meet-cute. That’s a little bit of a meat disaster that doesn’t go badly.
Corey [00:16:20] Yeah. Yeah, and there’s just all this really cute stuff about how she’s like really freaking out because she really feels like she needs to make cinnamon rolls and she doesn’t know how-
Corey [00:16:29] And he helps her make cinnamon rolls, but, you know, and they never quite actually succeed in making the cinnamon roll but it doesn’t matter. It’s OK.
Ana [00:16:38] And it actually ties in with some of the rest of the themes for this month. Uh, a lot of people are going to be talking about cinnamon roll characters.
Ana [00:16:44] So now, you know, the characters may eat cinnamon rolls. Maybe this is the book for you.
Corey [00:16:52] Here you go. He really is kind of a cinnamon roll dom as far as that goes. He’s very sweet, too.
Ana [00:16:57] So I’ve got to say, that’s not a combination I hear about often, but that’s great.
Corey [00:17:05] Yeah, I wish there were more of those, I, I got to say.
Corey [00:17:10] That’s my personal taste.
Ana [00:17:11] Yeah. I think there’s too much of the asshole doms out there.
Corey [00:17:15] Yeah. I’m less interested in that. I like, I like the cinnamon roll doms better.
Ana [00:17:20] Yeah. Let’s make that a thing. Come on, folks.
Corey [00:17:23] Yes!
Ana [00:17:23] Write us some cinnamon roll doms. So…
Corey [00:17:26] Yeah. So yeah.
Ana [00:17:29] Now-.
Corey [00:17:29] Yeah?
Ana [00:17:29] Another book that you have on your list that I really love is A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole.
Corey [00:17:33] Yes..
Ana [00:17:33] I was so happy to see that one on your list because I love Portia’s story of self- discovery with ADHD, especially my second child has ADHD and was diagnosed very young.
Corey [00:17:52] Yes.
Ana [00:17:52] But one of the funny things about having ADHD as a kid is that sometimes you forget you have it. And because they haven’t always been on medication and all that kind of stuff, so throughout their life, they occasionally go and say, hey, did you know that I have a lot of things that are ADHD like? And we’re like, yes, that’s why you took medication in second grade.
Corey [00:18:13] <laughter>
Ana [00:18:13] But so one of the things that really helped my child was these videos on YouTube, the living with ADHD. Yeah, YouTube. And so I really connected to Portia sort of seeing themselves because I had just seen my child go through that same oh, like, oh, my God, I’m not the only person who thinks this way. Yeah.
Corey [00:18:36] Yeah…Yeah, I really love the, the way that, you know, like Portia really comes into her own in this book. And it’s a slow process. It’s not, like it felt really real to me.
Ana [00:18:54] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:18:54] That, like she you know, especially because she wasn’t diagnosed and her family was so judgmental-
Ana [00:19:01] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:19:01] About a lot of the the qualities that she has that are, um, associated with her ADHD, the a lot of her habits and experiences, and there was so much familial judgment that she just took in as like-.
Ana [00:19:16] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:19:16] This is who I am, um, and really I’m packing all of that in the midst of figuring out what was going on. It just it, it really resonated for me, is, you know, as someone else who has, who has done has gone through similar process-.
Ana [00:19:36] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:19:36] And a lot of ways around neurodivergence. Like, it’s not, you know, this it’s a, it feels like almost like a neurodivergent coming out story in that way.
Ana [00:19:45] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:19:45] Like it’s about, you know, like her recognizing this is part of her life and and learning about it and, um, and really coming to accept it about herself. And, and that’s, that’s really so instrumental in her being able to accept that, that she can love and be loved and that, and that’s, that’s a big part of how it’s possible for her to be open to this relationship.
Ana [00:20:13] Right, because she gets to class self and that way.
Corey [00:20:16] Yes.
Ana [00:20:16] She feels like she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t deserve, the, the. uh, judgment of her family, that she is somebody worth loving and being, that she is on this disaster, that she just doesn’t that takes up space, which is part of the stuff that she has to sort of de-program from herself, right?
Corey [00:20:38] Yeah. Yeah, it’s, and it felt really beautiful to me to see, you know, to see her kind of come to a place where she was claiming to have who she was. And I just, you know, like I mean, the, the watching the videos thing told me resonated for me, too, because when I was first recognizing that I was autistic, I was, there’s a series of videos called Ask An Autistic. Where they explain-
Ana [00:21:06] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:21:07] different traits of autism, um, and that I watched and I had all these feelings.
Corey [00:21:14] Yeah, so I definitely had that kind of experience, too. And it it feels like, you know, this is such an important thing to have. And, you know, in terms of ADHD representation, and for it to be such, uh, you know, it’s traditionally published book, It’s got such a wide reach. I just love that.
Ana [00:21:43] Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Absolutely.
Corey [00:21:43] Yeah.
Ana [00:21:49] Another ADHD rep that I really enjoy is Nessa in Beyond Surrender a Kit Rocha’s book.
Corey [00:21:58] Yes, I love that! Oh, she’s great.
Ana [00:22:02] And I think because there’s so much joy around her and her many that the way she flits from craft to craft her hyper focus, that, um, there’s, there’s just a lot of celebration of the aspects of her brain that work that way. Um…
Corey [00:22:22] Yes.
Ana [00:22:23] Because, because her like for her, you know, making the whiskey is something that’s always captured her attention as a part of her focus, um, and that can be celebrated. And the fact that she just enjoys process and learning things can be celebrated. Um, and I mean, yeah-.
Corey [00:22:40] Yes.
Ana [00:22:40] She does also sexually have to sort of try to get out of her brain a little bit that she’s always, you know, you know that, in that there’s that come that conversation as part of their sexual discovery.
Corey [00:22:54] Mm-hm.
Ana [00:22:54] Like, this is what I need. You know, um, this is what I struggle with.
Corey [00:23:02] Yeah, yeah, I really liked that and that it was incorporated into the way they talked about sex. It felt really important to me that that was part of what was going on. I feel like, I feel like sometimes when folks are writing neurodivergent rep, they often leave that piece of it out um, and the sex looks like it would look like with any neurotypical person. And there is no, and there’s not a lot of like understanding that actually know that, you know, this is like part of who you are-.
Ana [00:23:39] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:23:39] And it kind of impacts everything, Right? And so I really appreciated that in, in that book and also there’s a book called Connection Error by Annabeth Albert.
Ana [00:23:50] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:23:50] That has a main character that has ADHD, who also, where they, they do this thing where they, where they kind of turn it into almost a game, where they keep changing position.
Ana [00:24:02] Hm.
Corey [00:24:02] So that he, he can stay focused.
Ana [00:24:06] Right.
Corey [00:24:06] And I really like that as well.
Ana [00:24:08] Great. Now, you mentioned a little bit about Talia Hibbert before you had the book, Untouchable on your list.
Corey [00:24:14] Yes. Yes.
Ana [00:24:16] Tell me about what you loved.
Corey [00:24:18] OK. So I really love the depression representation in this book so much. The depression is named on the page and both the hero and the heroine are experiencing depression. And the hero is not sure whether it’s situational or it’s kind of ongoing. He’s still kind of trying to sort that out throughout the book. The heroine has had depression her whole life, and it felt so resonant to me because her depression is, has a lot of anger in it.
Ana [00:24:52] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:24:52] And I think that’s something that often doesn’t get shown in-.
Ana [00:24:57] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:24:57] In the way that depression is represented in stories. And I really loved that she was so angry and that it was part of how it manifested for her. And I really also loved the way they connected around their depression, and bonded, and create this intimacy together around this shared experience.
Corey [00:25:21] Um, I also really appreciated that the autistic rep was very present, but also wasn’t named.
Ana [00:25:30] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:25:30] And, and for really deliberate reasons by the author, chose to not name it. But to really show that Hannah was also autistic.
Ana [00:25:41] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:25:41] It felt, it felt good to me to have that kind of representation out there where it’s not named as well as, um, especially because there’s also the book with her sister where it is.
Ana [00:25:57] Right. Right.
Corey [00:25:58] To show that contrast.
Ana [00:26:00] Right. But the fact that not everybody will be diagnosed and not everybody recognizes that in themselves.
Corey [00:26:08] Yes.
Ana [00:26:09] Yeah.
Corey [00:26:09] Yeah. And she you know, Hannah doesn’t really think about herself as autistic. She really she is thinks about herself is really different from Ruth and a lot of ways and as someone who needs to take care of Ruth and, and she really focuses on her depression. But the autism is definitely there.
Ana [00:26:28] Right.
Corey [00:26:28] And it’s part of how you know, how, how she navigates social situations, how she struggles with things, It’s part of her, her experience with the world.
Ana [00:26:38] Yeah.
Corey [00:26:40] I really appreciated that and you know, it’s I mean, its own voices, right?
Ana [00:26:44] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:26:45] That really makes a difference in how real things feel, a lot of the time for me. Is that it, you know, is that it’s coming from that place.
Ana [00:26:55] Right. Now, another book that has that sort of own voices, uh, depression, un-.
Corey [00:27:01] Mm-hm.
Ana [00:27:01] Representation would be Hate to Want You. You were mentioning.
Corey [00:27:06] Yes!
Ana [00:27:06] On your list, by Alisha Rai, who I love. I love that whole series. And I really love how mental health rep was just wrapped up in each book, that it was sort of an ever present theme in the series. Everybody is dealing with some sort of grief or depression or anxiety.
Corey [00:27:24] Yeah.
Ana [00:27:24] In the ever present ness of it. Actually, sort of. It’s affirming because a lot of, like, sometimes you have people who are like, well, in my day, people didn’t get the press. Of course they did!
Corey [00:27:35] Mm-hm.
Ana [00:27:35] We just didn’t call it that.
Corey [00:27:36] Yeah. I really appreciated the intergenerational nature of it, too, right?
Ana [00:27:43] Like in the mother?
Corey [00:27:44] Like it’s. Yeah. The mother. Yes. And the way that the mother would never call it depression when you know, like, and but that it’s part of her experience as well um, and I really mean, what I love about the I love that it’s named on the page. I love that the difficulty with suicidal ideation is named on the page.
Ana [00:28:08] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:28:08] In the story. And I really love the way that she copes with it on the page, like you see her have these strategies and to navigate what’s going on as some that she kind of came up with herself and some that she worked out in therapy. And this, this way that she’s really, like it’s, I think-
Ana [00:28:32] Well, I like that was a process, right?
Corey [00:28:33] Yeah.
Ana [00:28:33] Because I know the reason everything fell apart early on is because she didn’t have those support systems.
Corey [00:28:39] Yes.
Ana [00:28:39] And that’s there’s came a lot of self-discovery and process behind it. So it’s, it also feels hopeful in a way of like, you can live with this, this is who you’re, this is your life, rather than a it has to be like resolved because you’re together now.
Corey [00:28:57] Yes. Like, I feel like, it’s totally where I was going to go to, like I think sometimes with mental illness, representation and in romance, what you have is like a character who needs to be cured because otherwise we won’t know what to do with, like we can’t imagine what how she can have a happy ending otherwise or whatever. So there needs to be like a cure that happens either with sort of like a miracle therapy, where you go to therapy for a couple weeks and then you’re fine thing that sometimes happens which is very strange.
Ana [00:29:31] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:29:31] Or or sometimes it’s, you know, cured by love or sex or some combination. And so there’s this way that this imagines a different kind of happy ending, a different kind of future-
Ana [00:29:44] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:29:45] That doesn’t you know, that includes an ongoing experience of mental illness. And that isn’t kind of, you know, that where you don’t doubt that the happy ending because she’s mentally ill, she has it and she’s mentally ill. And that’s part of the deal.
Ana [00:30:05] Right. There’s not this. Sometimes we see that counter example like in another book, OK, her mom deals with mental illness and doesn’t acknowledge it. Thus, she’s cursed, right?
Corey [00:30:16] Right.
Ana [00:30:18] To always live unhappily, but she’s going to deal with it so it’s going to be fine. And it was like, no, both of them deal with depression, both of them have heavily affected into their life, and that’s not the deciding factor on whether they find a happily ever after. And spoiler alert for the rest of the series, the mom has reaches a place of good stuff, too. So…
Corey [00:30:38] I love the mom’s happy ending so much.
Ana [00:30:42] I know!
Ana [00:30:43] She’s like, I’m gonna cut you if you come near us.
Corey [00:30:47] Oh my god, it makes me so happy. Yes. Yeah. And I really like that, you know, you have this heroine who’s really grappling really openly with depression and it’s acknowledged and she’s had therapy and she is coping strategies. And then you have this hero where it’s all underground and he doesn’t even really acknowledge that he’s experienced trauma, even though he very clearly has and that he’s in this you know, that he’s got this family that he’s been grappling with, the abuse from his family for, you know, for his entire life. And that and that it’s part of his story is this trauma around it. And and so they’re indifferent. They’re in really different places and you get to see her process and his process-.
Ana [00:31:36] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:31:36] And, and the ways that they can support each other and the ways they set each other off,.
Corey [00:31:41] You know, because it both happens when you’re in relationship, mentally ill and you’re never really through with someone else is mentally ill, is that, you know, you deal with both. And I really I really liked that he got to have his own kind of arc where recognized, where he got to recognize that he was impacted in this way-.
Ana [00:32:05] Yeah. Yeah.
Corey [00:32:05] And it was really shaping his life in a way that he didn’t want it to.
Ana [00:32:10] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:32:11] That you know, and that he needed to do something about that. That felt really important to.
Ana [00:32:17] Yeah.
Corey [00:32:19] Yeah, it felt like a really deep and complex exploration of mental illness and narrative urgency in the on the page, like, it really felt really full and rich.
Ana [00:32:30] Yeah, and I mean, I just because it also, so, I mean, that whole series dealing with the, the wave culture affects how what you can acknowledge and not acknowledge.
Corey [00:32:40] Yes.
Ana [00:32:41] I think that’s also something that’s rarely seen because sometimes it seems like, you have already have an issue, you’re Latino or your Asian, so you don’t get to have something else, you know, especially in traditionally published books. So I really loved that they were they were allowed to have like a fullness of experience and, I don’t know. And it wasn’t like everybody was like cool with people going to having therapy.
Ana [00:33:07] You know, it’s just that’s lost in family stuff.
Corey [00:33:11] Yeah. Yeah. I love the different like the different kinds of things. You know, like you have one character and, you know, in the second book you’ve got a character who has medication and you’ve got a character who was never diagnosed with autism, but very clearly is autistic.
Ana [00:33:28] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:33:28] You know, and it’s shaped his entire life. And in the third book, you’ve got a character who’s got trauma and who hasn’t really kind of acknowledged the way that trauma has shaped her life.
Ana [00:33:41] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:33:41] And there’s just all these different ways that this is you know, this plays out in this series. And, and it just gets to hold the fullness of of the diversity of these kinds of experiences.
Ana [00:33:55] And then especially like if we talk about Jackson in that second book-.
Corey [00:33:59] Yeah.
Ana [00:33:59] The effort, though, he’s not ever been diagnosed. He has been able to craft a very successful life for himself.
Corey [00:34:07] Yes.
Ana [00:34:08] And that, you know, there hasn’t held him back because he hasn’t but that he didn’t have a diagnosis. There’s been ways that he’s been able to sort of hack the world to work for himself. And it’s I thought that was interesting, too, that it wasn’t like, oh, you know, you have to have a diagnosis in order to succeed in a world. No, you can have a very successful life and career and still deal with the sensory stuff, even without naming them.
Corey [00:34:35] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s part of the. Yeah. That he you know, and that he also had, you know, that he had this vulnerability that really impacted, like, his experience of being in jail and his experience of, of trying to manage this career. And that he was incredibly successful. And then he you know, and then he has this really, you know, this capacity for really beautiful love…
Ana [00:35:07] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:35:07] You know? You can see him kind of open-
Ana [00:35:08] He has a strong circle of friends, right? Because he has all this, he has these loyal people that protect him and go surround him at work. This also expresses how-
Corey [00:35:18] Yeah.
Ana [00:35:20] He can built friendships, he can build community and whatever, and he didn’t need to be like in a relationship with Sadia in order to accomplish that, that’s something different.
Corey [00:35:29] Yeah. Yeah. I need to see him really work on his relationship with his family in the book, too. It’s lovely. Like, he’s, you know, he cares just as much about trying to figure out how to make his relationship with his family.
Ana [00:35:42] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:35:43] And I really I really appreciate that entire series and the way that it approaches his day and the complexity with which it really approaches them. It makes me really happy that it’s out in the world.
Ana [00:35:58] I don’t buy many books on paper, but that’s one series has made it onto my shelf. Yeah, the signed copies from The Ripped Bodice from Alisha. So would you like to talk about some of the other books that you have on your list? I know you have Invitation to the Blues by Roan Parrish on your list. That’s one of our, uh, it’s a favorite of RomBkPod.
Corey [00:36:18] Yes.
Ana [00:36:18] Um, Melinda is a big fan.
Corey [00:36:20] Yeah. So Invitation to the Blues is probably the most, kind of, angsty of the books that I, I tried to recommend a range, right? I did, you know, like I put in books where the character’s neurodivergence was really central and complex and, and, you know, in a rich kind of experience, like when we were just talking about. And then I also included ones where it’s a little less central to the story. Um, so like learning curves, it’s really mostly incidental representation. This is another Owen Voices story where the characters you’ve got one character with anxiety and another character who has ADHD, and it’s a f/f new adult romance novella set in college. And it’s this lovely kind of meet cute and then they become friends, and then they date in a Christmas oriented romance. And it’s really incidental, you don’t hear much about the character’s anxiety, there’s a few moments where it kind of pops up similarly. You don’t hear much about the characters, ADHD, but it’s kind of in the background and a little bit, you know, it’s here and there. And it’s you know, I wanted to include that kind of representation because I think sometimes we just want a story that’s like about people like us where it’s not about that part of us, you know?
Ana [00:37:54] Oh, I totally get you. Yep.
Corey [00:37:59] Yeah, and so, like, you know, I usually call that incidental rep where it’s like, oh yeah. She happens to have ADHD. It’s right. You know, it’s part of this part of the thing. And, you know, like, and then there are stories like a Duke by Default where it’s really central. Like ADHD is a huge part of her personal arc or the, you know, the main character, both of the main characters in I hate to Want You were there mental illness is a huge part of their arc. In an Invitation to the blues, I wanted to talk about those kinds of books where you’ve got a character who’s really in crisis because of the mental illness or the neurodivergency. Where that’s really a big part of the story is that, you know, Jude, the main character in Invitation to the Blues, and this is a full-length novel that has one point of view, and it’s just, so it’s just from his point of view. He is, he’s had depression his whole life. He’s newly released from a long term stay in a hospital after a suicide attempt. And he’s also dealing with post-traumatic stress from an abusive relationship, and that’s somewhat less acknowledged, but it’s, it’s very present in the story. And, and it feels like there are you know, I, I think there are a lot of stories about characters who are mentally ill, where they are in crisis or are just emerging from crisis, where what happens is they get rescued by the other character.
Ana [00:39:42] Right.
Corey [00:39:42] In the romance, right? And this is really not that story. This is a character who finds, who struggles to find his feet on his own. And he does absolutely struggle.
Ana [00:39:56] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:39:58] Um, and it’s beautifully rendered his experience. I also read him as autistic, um, because of all the sensory aspects of what was going on with him. He has very restrictive, a lot of sensory things happening for him where he really he really struggles to eat almost altogether because most food feels wrong.
Ana [00:40:27] Right, right.
Corey [00:40:27] And so for me, that feels like a very potentially, a very autistic experience of struggling with food.
Ana [00:40:34] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:40:34] And so it felt like, uh, it felt like that might be part of what was going on for him, too. And he’s really struggling to find his feet and the people around him and his family are struggling to see him as a human being who might be able to be OK on his own.
Ana [00:40:50] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:40:52] And he is, you know, not in a great place and doesn’t really know what he’s gonna do with his future. And, and is really working to imagine what that future could be. And, and it felt really resonant to me, the, the just, the, the way it was described. And it was I mean, it it’s, it’s a very emotionally intense book to read. It’s probably the most of the ones that I recommended. And it, and it really feels like he needs someone who is able to let him be where he is.
Ana [00:41:36] Mm-hm.
Corey [00:41:36] And to just kind of meet him where he’s at and not try to save him and not try to change them and not be freaked out about where he is…
Ana [00:41:46] When somebody is allowed to just find a partner that wants to stand beside them rather than rescue them or save them.
Corey [00:41:53] Yeah.
Ana [00:41:55] And I mean, like, that’s not a knock against people who want to be rescued or have the Cinderella story. But that’s, but that can be very powerful when somebody is acknowledged like you can live with your mental illness and figure your way out, and I will be right by with you without solving it for you.
Corey [00:42:13] Yeah. And one of the things I really love is that, you know, it’s, it’s kind of right near the end where you’re going to see Jude for the first time being like, hey, I want to be able to support you, too. Like a you know, like you’re here sitting with me and being witnessing, you know what? And being here with me. And I want to be able to do that for you, too. Let’s figure out how we can do that, too.
Ana [00:42:41] Right. I mean, that’s huge, too, right? Because that’s you’re acknowledging that they can give something that they’re not just somebody who’s taking in a relationship, but that they are full, equal partners, and that people with mental illnesses can be giving partners and relationships.
Corey [00:42:57] Yeah, yeah. I love that moment in it. It made me really happy that that was there. It was one of those, with the with the autism piece of it didn’t feel like it was wrong that it wasn’t named on the page. It just felt like, well, he’s got all these complex things going on, I, It would surprise me if they did figure it out, you know?
Ana [00:43:22] Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
Corey [00:43:22] That part worked out for me as an autistic reader.
Ana [00:43:28] We hope you enjoyed this episode of RomBkPod, Inclusively Yours, a weekly podcast celebrating inclusive romance, one trope at a time. If you’d like weekly recommendations on inclusive romance, please take a moment to subscribe. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at RomBkPod. That’s R-O-M-B-K-P-O-D. Thank you for joining us. And until next time, happy reading.
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