Her intimately familiar voice whispered softly in his ear, “Pretend you know me.”
Lynn Hall has a formula for success. As a child in the rural island town of Selaruk, Alaska, she ate ramen; now, she’s an aspiring accountant. The last step of her plan: Liquidate her family’s Selaruk assets for her mother, then leave those memories behind for good.
Keith Kendall’s parents threw him away years ago. Now they are gone, and Keith is back to forge a new life…surrounded by painful memories. But his favorite memory—his high school sweetheart, Lynn—just walked back into his life….Too bad she doesn’t recognize her high school girlfriend.
I read this book because it’s an #ownvoices romance and I like to give those any boost I can, which includes writing reviews. Also gender roles in romance are something I’m interested in, and I wanted to see how this novel would take on the challenge. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an effectively cis-gendered mostly-hetero lady. I say effectively cis and mostly hetero because while I am comfortable with being female I am bad at being femme, and I tend to be attracted to androgyny. (I have read exactly one (1) romance novel which featured a hero who is the exact kind of person I’m attracted to, and it is Untamed by Anna Cowan.) All of this is to say, I read this as part of an active effort to diversify my romance reading experience and learn something about the genre as a whole while, hopefully, having a good time.
Lynn Hall has dealt with the chaos and uncertainty of her early life by clawing her way towards economic security, and she spends most of the novel trying to not lose any momentum in moving towards her goals – a prized accounting internship in Anchorage that will enable her to become a CPA. She’s socially aware and very kind, and when she struggles to understand Keith’s behavior she does so in a way that feels, well, real. She’s not a saint, she can be self-absorbed and oblivious, but she owns her mistakes and does her best to learn and move forward and be as supportive of Keith and her other friends as she can be.
Keith Kendall has dealt with the chaos and uncertainty of his early life by working hard to make himself into a good man, both physically and otherwise. At the point that he (re)connects with Lynn, he’s still navigating a lot of uncertainty and trauma. Keith Kendall has a lot of secrets and they are all weighing on him. That said, he is, like Lynn, very kind. If there was one moment that I thought really defined him, it was when Lynn came home steaming mad and ready to punch something and Keith, though alarmed and concerned, took down the punching bag and taught her how to punch something in a safe and responsible way.
I liked that both parties had to make radical changes in their lives in order to get the happy ending – it was not a case of only one person making a sacrifice, it was both of them maturing as people, learning to communicate better, and actively choosing each other. Also they both acknowledge the challenges that will be facing them, going forward, but are ready and willing to face those challenges together.
I thought the author also did a great job of integrating explanations of a broad variety of trans issues – everything from dangers facing trans youth to body and gender dysphoria – into the narrative in a way that is accessible for readers who may not be familiar with them, and that blended well with the story as a whole.
There was at least one – continuity error, I guess you could call it. When Lynn moves in with him on an emergency basis, Keith frantically hides all evidence of his past self. It takes him quite a while to come out to Lynn, and when he does come out, he does it accidentally. Not too much later in the text, he answers a video call with Lynn’s mother with his shirt off. Lynn’s mother did know him in his previous life, but it was jarring to me that after his previous diligence and caution with Lynn he didn’t seem to have a moment’s pause revealing himself to her mother. This one odd little moment really stood out because otherwise the author was so careful about enabling the reader to track the boundaries of Keith’s life and understand the reasons for his secrets and fears.
On the whole, I liked it. If you haven’t read any romances featuring a transperson before, and you want to start somewhere, here is a good place to start. It’s short (176 pages!), sweet, and satisfying. I would probably read the author again, particularly if she writes a book that explains the [major spoiler] that surfaced towards the end of this one because I am sucker for the [major spoiler] trope. I recommend it in particular to readers who prefer low-heat romance, because it does a great job of showing two people who very much desire each other, but are respectful of each others’ limits and mutual need to take things slow. There is no Sex Nagging or Sex Sulking in this book!
Transpire Together is a sweet, clean contemporary second chance romance novel of 50,000-55,000 words with hidden identity elements, set in small town Southeastern Alaska in 2018 during the Anchorage bathroom bill fight. It offers low heat, no cheating or cliffhangers, ownvoice representation, and a happy ending with a trans male and cis female couple.
You can buy a copy here.