Melissa reviews Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan Published August 8th 2017 by Heidi Cullinan, 341 pages.
A single stroke can change your world.
Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten college to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.
Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.
Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.
I was provided an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Why I read this book: The early reviews for this book were split and my curiosity got the better of me so I took a chance.
I don’t even know where to begin with this review because there are so many things I want to say, so I guess I will just jump right in and see what comes out.
This book spoke to me in a BIG way. And I am not referring to any of the art or manga or shrines that played a part in this story. I am talking about Skylar & Xander. I identified with Skylar like I have no other character, and while we are not the same (I am in no way a social person), we share enough similarities that I felt a real connection. With Xander, our only similarity is in shyness. Xander is an introvert and an antisocial person – I completely get that. I prefer my own company to that of others, mostly because I like silence and doing what I want to do.
As unlikely as it is to find your perfect partner, when you add in all the nuances that make Skylar and Xander unique – it’s even more amazing and perfectly romantic that they did indeed find each other. Out of all the billions of people there are on this planet, out of all the thousands of people who chose to attend Benten college, and out of those same thousands, for Xander’s art to be graffitied upon by members of Skylar’s fraternity – and for Skylar to be so mesmerized and enamored with said art – that these two should find each other is like Disney Fairy Tale magic.
I was just struck by how well suited these two are and as implausible as their coming together is (because real life just doesn’t always work out that way), I believed it. Author Heidi Cullinan really did an amazing job in bringing to life characters who don’t match society’s normative. I know this book will not be for everybody, but I hope people will still give it a chance. I was hesitant to read this myself because of the reviews I had read, it seemed the story was very Japanese centric and manga art (which I still don’t 100% understand). And yes, those elements are in this story. But it’s simply a means by which the characters communicate with each other. Xander’s art and Skylar’s love and appreciation of it is what brings them together.
This isn’t a light and easy read, but I never felt weighed down with it. From the moment I started this to the last word on page, I was just engrossed in these characters and the world Heidi created. This book is different from anything else I’ve ever read and that is what is so amazing! I mean, how many different ways can you write boy meets boy (or someone meets someone)? There needs to be a special hook that makes a book different, and this one had it for me.
Depending on how you define intimacy, this book has loads of intimacy. No, there is no penetrative sex, but they have something so much deeper than that (and pun totally not intended). Skylar is a mix between asexual, demi sexual and bisexual – Skylar himself has no clear definition of what he is but he doesn’t want a label beyond “Xander’s Partner” anyway. Xander is gay, however painfully shy and a virgin. Neither are completely comfortable with the idea of sex (though Xander does have some good fantasies 😉 ), and so they learn what the other is comfortable with – they talk, they set limits and they have some of the most meaningful encounters. I mean, holy cow! They made out in a car by just touching hands! That is sweet and on the surface intimate, but for these men – who’ve not been touched – it was everything.
I hope this isn’t the end for Skylar and Xander – I would love to read more about them and what the future brings them. Their friends and family, sigh. Well, the friends are deeply loyal and at times I felt their Kumbaya, sis-boom-ba, rah-rah-rah attitude was a little over the top (when Skylar goes to take his LSAT, he has a sort of panic attack and calls Xander for support/help. Skylar had to drive 3-4 hours away to take this test, and not only did Xander go, but the WHOLE gang! In two cars. They drove hours to hold Skylar’s hand and show their support. That was all just too excessive for me and I got my squinty eye out!). I liked their friends: Zelda, Sara, Unc, Pamela – the list goes on. As for their family, Skylar’s doesn’t deserve the name, and Xander’s mother is trying. I felt her to be a weak willed woman at first but she grew stronger as time went on.
The progression of Skylar from a well put together, clean cut and well groomed, calm and collected young man to a jittery, scruffy nervous young man was a surprise and I didn’t feel the transition between them was smooth. It seemed to come from nowhere yet I could see signs of it coming. It’s hard to explain. Skylar was suave and (this is going to sound dumb) Ken like. As Xander breaks down Skylar’s walls and Skylar feels more and more pressure about the LSATs, wanting his fathers approval, his sexual identity is in chaos, his love for Xander, his future is unclear – Skylar’s dependence on Xander grows and grows until Skylar can’t seem to function without him. I don’t understand how he became so…frail. I think on this and maybe come back to say more.
Xander is sort of the complete opposite. Xander, the curmudgeon, the antisocial artist. He bloomed under Skylar’s attention and friendship and then love. Xander has never really felt satisfaction or pride or the sense that he successfully created what his mind and spirit felt when it came to his art. But Skylar did and through him and his appreciation, Xander let go. He stopped thinking and just did it. The manga and the Japanese culture – all that went over my head – but I could still appreciate it in the way it made the characters shine.
I highly recommend everybody read this and really think about what this book is about. It’s not always about sex, sometimes it’s about intimacy.