X-It is not the kind of book that you find on romance blogs or top romance lists, though not because the book isn’t good. It is—good, I mean. Great even.
But this book eschews all romance expectations, and it explores a kind of attraction and love that I rarely see in romance fiction.
The setting—gritty 80s New York, alphabet city, and its punk/drug/club/art scene—doesn’t lend itself to melodramatic emotional explorations and muscle-bound alpha males. Instead, we follow J.J., fresh from San Francisco, as she pursues art as well as X-It, her new roommate. Well, pursues isn’t quite the right word for it. J.J. and X-It spend much of the book on the cusp between friendship and relationship as they both explore the darker sides of New York and of themselves.
I loved this book in part because I was just as invested in J.J.'s life as I was in the romance-which I don't usually find in typical romance books. J.J. gets her happily ever after, but it's just as hard for the reader to see how this might happen as it is for her.
What captured by interest as a reading writer is the strong, vivid role of the city and the secondary characters play—successfully. Too often in romance, everything just seems like a backdrop for the hero and heroine’s relationship, and I get bored in the scenes where the heroine/hero pursues some sub-plot. These sub-plots are usually not nearly as compelling as the relationship, so I tend to skim if these parts get too long—they usually don’t affect the plot anyways!
But in X-It, I was just as invested in J.J’s own story as I was in the romance. I realized this in the middle of a painful Christmas scene with her family: I was reading this book more like I would read literary fiction, invested in story tension that had nothing to do with romance. As I wrote, this doesn’t usually happen for me.
But I’d love to see more romance novels that capture my attention with story just as much as with romance. Any suggestions?