I received a free digital copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
In the world of YA literature, there are increasing amounts of diversity taking place all the time, from gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans characters to POC characters and more. But there is still one identity that remains severely lacking in young adult literature, and that is asexuality. Yes, you'd be heard-pressed to find a book that features an asexual character, let alone one where asexuality is actually a major part of the plot and is properly discussed. For someone like myself who is asexual, it can be incredibly frustrating to not be able to find a book where you feel truly represented. That's why, when I heard about We Awaken by Calista Lynn, I knew I had to read it. A YA fantasy with a same-sex asexual relationship? Yes!
We Awaken isn't written like your typical YA novel where the protagonist possesses a sharp and clever voice. On the contrary, the writing in We Awaken is incredibly elegant and mellifluous in a way that almost reminds you of a novel from another time. It also possesses an enchanting feel to it, like that of an old fairy tale. The story follows Victoria as she falls in love with a girl who only comes to her in her dreams. She discovers her name is Ashlinn and that she is the creator of all dreams. Ashlinn is also able to visit Victoria's brother, who is currently in a coma from the car accident that also killed Victoria's father. It's in dreams where Ashlinn and Victoria fall in love and also where Ashlinn teaches Victoria about asexuality. Until one day when Victoria wakes up to find Ashlinn, the girl from her dreams, living and breathing next to her... I've always loved reading about dreams in books. I think it's because dreams are like this fantasy world that we get to return to every night, but there's also a part of dreams that feel like they could be real. For We Awaken to play with this idea and make it come to life (almost literally, in Ashlinn's case) is amazing.
As far as books about asexuality go, I have to say that We Awaken does a great job of properly delving into the identity of asexuality and what that means while also tackling many common misconceptions, like being able to show other forms of affection and intimacy in an asexual relationship, even in the absence of actually having sex. With Ashlinn and Victoria's relationship, the novel also confronts the topic of being both asexual and in a same-sex relationship. At one point in the story, Victoria struggles with understanding that she can still be a lesbian even though she is also asexual. For myself personally, I also felt like I could identify a lot with Victoria as she began reflecting on her own asexuality, and I felt many of my own thoughts and feelings mirrored in her words: "How does one go about telling her friend that she didn't seem to have grown out of the kissing-is-icky phase we spent out whole youth in?" In a lot of ways, We Awaken is a phenomenal introduction to asexuality while also having an overlapping same-sex relationship, and it will serve to be the asexual representation that many ace readers have always needed.
Unfortunately, while this novel does an excellent job of presenting asexuality, and while the synopsis sounds captivating, my intrigue stopped there, as I found it to be overall pretty bland. The problem, mainly is that the prose of this novel is so overwhelmingly flowery—and so are the characters—that you have a hard time truly connecting with either. Earlier in the review I said that the writing of this novel is reminiscent of an earlier time. And while there are moments full of beautiful description, at the same time this can be too much and the writing doesn't seem to fit with the time period, which actually isn't from another time.
This novel is contemporary. So when you have a story that's meant to take place in modern day, yet the characters don't at all speak like it and the writing is told in this incredibly elegant, honeyed way, then saying words like "dear," "upon," and "such," and throwing out phrases like, "Oh you must," and, "Elation is a troublesome thing"... it just doesn't fit. You can't really visualize this teenage protagonist, because that's not how teenagers today speak. Teenagers don't typically say, "Mother." That's relatively old-fashioned as opposed to saying "Mom." And then when Victoria would occasionally throw out a "freaking," this made it even more jarring, trying to mesh teenage slang with this fairy-tale like dialogue. So in this way, a lot of the time the writing and characters just seemed rather flat and artificial rather than coming across as truly genuine, palatable people. As a side note, I also just found it a bit odd that a dream creator who has existed for so many years is called Ashlinn. To me, this name is too modern and teenage-y. I would think a more classic and traditional name would be more fitting, but maybe that's just me.
I approached We Awaken with such promise and hope for an ace-representation novel that I would fall in love with. While it was a flop for me and while I would've preferred the novel to be written in a more contemporary style, I still have to respect it and the author herself for finally giving asexuality a place within YA literature and giving it the attention it deserves. For anyone who is asexual or interested in learning more about asexuality, this book will serve as a good introduction. I only hope that We Awaken will pave the way for more asexuality novels to come.