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One Last Stop

by Casey McQuiston
June 1, 2021 · St. Martin's Griffin
Contemporary RomanceLGBTQIA

CW/TW: reference to a historical hate crime against LGBTQ people

One Last Stop is the tale of August, a young woman who has recently moved to New York City, and Jane, the mysterious woman that August meets on the subway. When August moves to New York, she intends to do what she’s done her whole life, namely, keep to herself. However, her apartment roommates and neighbors are clearly not going to stand for that.

Meanwhile, August is desperately and instantly smitten with Jane, but there’s a teensy problem. Jane boarded the subway sometime in the 1970s and hasn’t been able to age or leave the train since then. It will take all of August’s resources, brain power, and newly found family to help Jane get unstuck.

Honestly Tara and I (Carrie) weren’t sure if we would love this book or hate it but we fell heavily into the ‘love’ camp.

Tara: I truly wasn’t prepared for how much I loved this book. In part, that’s because it came at exactly the right time, so it felt like a gift specifically for me. I’ve been reading up on the history of the early punk movement, so I was VERY interested in everything Jane had to say about her life and the time she’s from. Also, this book has that ineffable something that hooked me right from the beginning and kept me interested all the way through. It’s taken me days to sit with it and unpack my feelings, and I’m finally ready to talk to you about it!

Carrie: I loved the romance, the mystery, and the contrasts between being LGBTQIA today versus in the 1970s, but what really sucked me in was the found family aspect, which is aways my catnip and which I think has also been a crucial element of survival for marginalized people in the past and remains one today. I was afraid I would find August’s roomies to be too twee but, my lord, I just adored all of them, not to mention her unrealistically forgiving employers and co-workers (August gets a job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes and almost immediately starts missing a lot of shifts, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t fly in real life).

Tara: Yes, I loved how August’s roommates decided they were going to make her part of their queerdo family. In fact, the first thing I highlighted, because I loved it so much, was the response August gets when she explains why she didn’t have the best childhood or relationship with her mom.

“Anyway,” Myla says, turning to open the freezer. “That sucks. I’m your mom now. The rules are, no Tarantino movies and bedtime is never.”

So many of the funniest parts of the book are exchanges between August and her roommates. For example, I cracked up when a hungover August moans “I wish I were never born,” and Wes responds only with “Retweet.” Or when August confides her pining for Jane to Myla, and they have this exchange:

“Maybe you’re meant to be. Love at first sight. It happened to me.”

“I don’t accept that as a hypothesis.”

“That’s because you’re a Virgo.”

“I thought you said virginity was a construct.”

“A Virgo, you fucking Virgo nightmare. All this, and you still don’t believe in things. Typical Virgo bullshit.”

August’s friends show up for her in a big way, whether it’s helping her find a job, moving furniture for her, or cracking the mystery of why Jane is stuck on the subway so they can get her unstuck.

I also appreciated that while August doesn’t become as close with her coworkers as she does her roommates, they’re part of her found family too. They’re just more like extended family rather than immediate, which I don’t recall often seeing in fiction. The overall sense of community is so vibrant, it makes me want to be a part of it.

Carrie: As a subset of the found family thing, this book has the most amazing parties and I felt like I had been to those parties even though I haven’t ever been to one like that and wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I had. The parties in this book are magic dream parties full of acceptance, exuberance, and joy and I love them.

Tara: I’m so party averse, I don’t know that I could have lasted longer than half an hour, but there was definitely something magical about them.

Carrie: They are such accepting people we could have an Introvert Closet with beanbags and books and they would slide pancakes under the door for us.

Tara: Someone make me an Introvert Closet stat!

As someone who inhaled the entire RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise last year, I was also excited to see drag culture represented in the story. The tenant across the hall from August and her crew is a notable New York drag queen who goes by the name Annie Depressant, and we often see her and her fellow queens at parties and performances. Also, at one point, August recollects a conversation with Jane about how Jane used to go to drag shows and drag balls in the ‘70s. That moment struck me as an excellent reminder that while RPDR popularized drag and brought it into mainstream consciousness, it certainly didn’t create it because drag has been around for decades. (Side note: if you want to learn more about the drag ball culture in the late 1960s in New York, check out a documentary on Netflix called The Queen. I highly recommend it.)

One pro-tip for reading One Last Stop: have snacks handy. Hearing about food in the pancake house made me want pancakes a lot of the time. Did I end up making pancakes? Yes. Do I feel good about that choice? Also yes.

Carrie: Incidentally I would also LOVE to eat a Su Special, which is a fried egg, bacon, maple syrup, and hot sauce sandwiched between two pieces of Texas toast.

Tara: This is a solvable problem! Be the hero you want to see in the world and make the sandwich, Carrie!

Some of you might be wondering, “Okay, but how good is the romance, anyway?” If you’d told me I’d get real big feelings about a romance that develops entirely on the subway, I would have been skeptical, but I really, really loved it. August’s pining that I mentioned above is palpable and even when they’re a couple, there’s still tension because of the question of whether August and her pals can save Jane from the subway. Jane and August are my couple of 2021 because I love them both so much. Please invite me to the wedding.

Because the story is told solely from August’s perspective, we only see her internal narrative as she falls for Jane. I didn’t mind, however, because Jane is so good at expressing herself. One scene in particular stands out.

Show Spoiler

After knowing each other for a while, Jane blows up because she wants to know what they’re doing. Are they dating or not? Jane’s frustration and vulnerability in this moment are perfectly balanced, leaving me breathless.

Part of me wishes we could have seen a bit more into Jane’s interior, but I also respect the choice not to show it, because One Last Stop is the story of how August finds family, love, and a relationship with the city. Getting Jane unstuck is a factor in that, but it’s not the main point of the overall story.

Carrie: I agree that this is much more the story of August finding a home, a family, and a sense of purpose than it is a romance novel with romance being the center focus. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to August’s fear of finally graduating from college and feeling as though all she knows how to do is either live out the expectations of her mother, or be a student forever.

Having said that, I loved the slow burn of this romance, and although “can’t spit it out” romances have often bugged me, in this book it made sense for Jane and August to be reluctant to share their feelings—both because this fits their characters and because this fits their predicament.

I also enjoyed how the process of restoring Jane’s memory highlights the sensory nature of memory—how a taste or touch or smell can bring an entire scene flooding back into the mind. It’s a sensual book in that sense (ha, see what I did there). The sex is sexy, but the entire book, even the sad and frustrating parts, involve a celebration of the senses and of life in general.

Tara: I wouldn’t normally bring up something from the acknowledgements of a book, but I want to share this line, because it’s a perfect summary of what I love best about One Last Stop: “I love this story because it’s an Unbury Your Gays story.” I got a little teary when I read that line, because I realized how unique that idea is and I didn’t know how much I needed it. Too many stories centre queer pain, regardless of the medium. That’s why I gravitate towards f/f and f/nb romance, so I don’t have to read about queer women dying or getting punished for who they love, like they do pretty much everywhere else in fiction, film, and TV. Everyone who knew Jane Su thought she was gone, one of the many queer people who died for who-knows-what reason in the late 1970’s. Because this is a romance, she gets her happy ending, and in a way that makes perfect sense for her and August.

Carrie: I was also deeply moved by the fate of August’s missing uncle. I thought this was handled in such a beautiful and healing manner. The book mentions a particularly tragic event which you MUST NOT GOOGLE (articles often contain graphic images and details). I learned about this event a long time ago and have been haunted by it ever since. The fate of the missing uncle goes a long way towards healing that wound.

Tara: I cannot recommend One Last Stop enough. It’s funny, it’s sexy, and it gives me all the feels. Plus, it’s an important book, because it reminds me of how far things have come for queer people thanks to the protests, organizing, and all the other work that people like Jane have done for us for decades. This has gone straight to my to-reread pile and it’s an absolute Squee for me. In the meantime, I’m going to be listening to the playlist I made with some music I imagine Jane listening to at Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, or on vinyl.

Carrie: So much this! The book is fun, sexy, serious and comical, and deeply intersectional. Thank you for reading this with me, Tara, it was a delight!

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