Dana and MtSnow review ‘Antisocial’ by Heidi Cullinan (Self-Published August 8, 2017, 341 pages. Released on audio August 21, 2017, 13 hrs and 52 mins length. Narrated by Iggy Toma.)
To read Melissa’s ebook review of Antisocial please click here.
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.
MtSnow – Why I listened to this story – Heidi Cullinan combined with Iggy Toma is always an auto-buy for me. To be honest, when I saw how long this audio was, I was only intimidated for a minute before I thought ‘well, just means I get to live vicariously thru these guys that much longer’, so no big worries here.
Even though it does seem to be a long story, it felt by the time I was done that it was time well spent, because I got to see what originally looked like the artist geek being ‘rescued’ by Mr. Popularity turn out to be the other way around. And the lengthy journey was necessary to make it believable.
There are a lot of details in this story, but I very much enjoyed the subject matter of dealing with politics and how to make manga believable as an art form that also could be used as a platform. As an artist myself, I very much appreciated the author’s gift of description, and I literally was able to see the beautiful painting AND mural that Xander created in my own mind’s eye.
I also was able to see how the abstract colors and painting touched something in Skylar. For someone that almost seemed rather shallow in the beginning, I knew Heidi wouldn’t let me down. Skylar did have touches of the author’s other Mr. Popular characters in her previous books. But, as in those stories, I appreciated how she was able to make them flawed in a way that as a reader I could imagine how hard certain choices and physical hardships made things for this person that seemed to have it all.
Also, it is always interesting to me how our knee-jerk reactions always tend to lean toward a bit of disdain for the person that looks like they have it all, and think ‘poor baby’ with a bit of sarcasm. But honestly, by the time the author’s characters are peeled back layer by layer, we as the reader get to see that we might need to rethink our automatic judgements that seem to be human nature.
Xander, in all his frumpy, somewhat insecure artistic exterior actually has a strength of character, and, like myself, really enjoys his alone time. Sometimes that’s what it takes to recharge and to feed the art, a deep down feeling or emotion that you want to portray in your sharing something of yourself. And, because Skylar cared about him, he thought by helping Xander out with his ‘brand’ or image, he was doing Xander a favor. Well, he got to see where his assumptions were wrong, also.
Both of these guys ended up having to compromise quite a bit, but by the end of the story, they both grew in a way that they actually helped each other be stronger without too much ‘leaning’ or creating a codependent relationship. I really liked that. No real rescuing here, just honest learning how to communicate and get your needs met while also sharing a space and loving another.
As far as Iggy’s narration, it was as always spot on with timing, inflection, and bringing the characters to life. These two – author and narrator – continue to be on my auto-buy list.
9.5 of 10 pots of gold
Dana – Heidi Cullinan’s writing and Iggy Toma’s voice are a combination I can’t resist. I am a huge fan of both, though I had heard some mixed reviews of this book. It did cause me to wait a bit before listening but I knew I would need to form my own opinion and experience the audiobook for myself. I am so glad I did.
Lets start with the introduction of an asexual/graysexual main character named Skylar. He knows he is ace but he is also discovering that there is more to learn about himself. This is one thing I love about Heidi’s writing – She is always so inclusive. She writes about gay/bi/lesbian/ace/trans/and non-binary characters and she always gives me such a better understanding of them. There is also a non-binary character named Zelda. They are as close to a friend as Xander might accept. You can see he appreciates them but also gets annoyed frequently with their attempts to meddle.
So, Skylar is a confident business/marketing student at the same college as Xander, who is an artist and manga creator. Xander is sort of like the title of this book. He doesn’t like talking to other students, he doesn’t really want to move into digital art. Marketing his senior project is going to be difficult with his aversion to social media. His loner attitude has it’s roots in past bullying and I can’t really blame him for not wanting to put himself out there. Skylar volunteers to help out after some frat brothers of his damage a mural at the school.
Skylar and Xander appear to be very different from each other but they slowly find out they have some things in common. Anime and Manga are two of those things. One thing I notice when reading this author’s books is that often the characters are involved in watching certain movies or reading certain books or they admire certain artworks that the author gives such detail to and showcases with such beauty that I feel I am missing out on something incredible. It feels like she is passionate about the same things she makes her characters love and it leads me to wanting to discover the art or book for myself.
Another thing Skylar and Xander have in common is parental issues. The way both of them have been treated by their parents has effected who they are and who they become as the story goes on. Skylar’s confidence goes missing the more he indulges in his real passions. Xander who preferred not to deal with people steps up to help Skylar find himself. By the end the two have flip-flopped in how they see and deal with the world. Xander’s past might have made him antisocial but he had to have hidden strength to survive it, and it shows when Skylar’s plans fall apart.
So it’s a lengthy listen but with so much change coming for the characters and their passion for Japanese temples, artwork, anime, and manga only drew me into the story more. I spent much of the first half of the book smiling. My thoughts on where the story would go weren’t exactly on point. The second half of the book was an emotional roller coaster. There are joy and plenty of angsty feelings. There is a lot of intimacy between Xander and Skylar but it’s not necessarily sexual. Skylar has only started to feel the slightest bit of desire and Xander is fairly shy, but sex isn’t the only way to show their deep feelings for each other. Their special painting session is a release of emotions and is one of the most lovely scenes I’ve ever read/listened to.
I honestly love and recommend every book I’ve read by this author. The ones with narrations I heartily recommend because of Iggy’s ability to emote. He enhances a wonderfully written book and really allows you to feel how the characters do. The manga style cover of Antisocial is beautiful. The narration is top notch. I loved Xander and Skylar. The secondary characters add so much with their humor, advice, and insight. There were so many feelings for me if you couldn’t tell by this very long review. 😉 Definitely recommended. Enough said.
10/10 pots of gold equivalent to 100% recommended or 5 of 5 stars
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.