Rating: 5+ out of 5
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’ve loved this author and her stories just forever and for so many different reasons. And I have many several 5 stars reviews of her stories. Cullinan always was one of my baselines in for bringing in unusual yet thoroughly realistic characters and situations and letting me connect emotionally on deep levels with each and every one. Yet once I finished Antisocial, I was stunned by it’s beauty and its depth, Cullinan’s handling of asexuality and the main characters relationship. I think it’s the best story she’s written. Even now Xander and Skylar, their transformation from, well, if not frenemies, strangers on campus, to friends to lovers with their own HEA is one that continues to resonate within me.
The warmth of Cullinan’s style of writing is one that pulls a reader, this reader, intimately into her stories and lives of her characters. Whether it’s the damaged, artistic Xander or stressed, high-society Skylar Stone, the Greek with the silver tongue and closet of secrets, Cullinan gently ushers you into their minds and hearts. She reveals the detritus of Stone’s upbringing that’s keeping him from growing into the person he can be, the same being said for Xander too. Then uses the Pygmalion story in a wonderful reversal that will thread elements together and bring closure in an emotionally satisfying and joyous climax.
In between, we get an amazing exploration of what asexuality in different forms can mean to a couple, to a person or persons and to a romance/relationship. The scenes with simple touches gave me shivers of delight as her descriptions telegraphed what it meant to Xander, Skylar and both of them as couple so beautifully. Each explore the fact that there’s not just one “ace label” or two, but a spectrum of grey as it were. Something other characters will or already understand. Cullinan brings the element of asexuality and threads it throughout Antisocial in a number of ways, stunning, unexpected, and important ways.
A great plus? The manga details and Japanese art history details that this story is laced with, like the woodcuts of Hokusai, seen to the right. Finally, there is the cast of characters that surround and support Xander and Skylar, ones that I want to see so much more of. All the tight members of the group from Lucky 7, especially Unc. I would plead with the author to bring them all back for more stories as I fell in love with all of them too.
But this is truly Xander and Skylar’s story and it’s in my top five of 2017. The beauty of its story, its characters and relationship, the complexities of their romance, the growth and change each underwent in order for a future to be possible for them together. Well, it still brings tears to my eyes and a glow to my heart. I highly recommend this to you all.