Oh, the longing…
For once, I’m not going to say anything about the story. Either you’ve read Ask, Tell and you already know it, or you haven’t and you really should. Read it first then come back to this book. Whether you read the second book, Ask Me Again, and the third, If the Shoe Fits, before or after this one doesn’t really matter unless you’re like me and need to read in order.
I usually fall in love with the characters over the course of the story but in this case, I went in already head over heels. Rebecca Keane is one of the most loved characters in sapphic fiction, I’m not immune to what makes her so special.
In the acknowledgements that open this book, the author explains that “with everything swirling around us, [she] just needed to spend some time with fictional friends”. That’s what this book feels like for this reader too, time with friends. As soon as I began reading If I Don’t Ask, it felt like home, a feeling at once wonderful and a little sad. I honestly didn’t expect to feel so much so soon. As I posted on social media, once in a while, I’ll start reading a book and, a few pages in, wish I hadn’t. Because I will never have the anticipation again of reading it, will never read it for the first time again. That’s why I keep some “classics” unread, why I never binge read an author’s back catalogue if I love them. I keep at least one book to look forward to. There’s a reason Alone, by the same author, is one of these unread classics.
The fact that If I Don’t Ask is not a sequel but a retelling of an already well-known and much-loved story is exciting because the reader knows what is going to happen. We’ve lived it already, we can bask in the certainty and yearning of what’s coming. What we weren’t sure of yet was how Rebecca experienced it and that’s the gift Noyes gives us.
And that in itself is a tour de force. Telling the same story twice is always a risk. It could be boring, simply recycling. It could ruin the original. It could be seen as the author lacking the imagination to create something new. But this is E. J. Noyes, and she pulls it off magnificently.
Far from ruining the original, If I Don’t Ask adds to it. I, for one, didn’t remember Sabine was so cute and funny. Was she? Or is she when seen through Bec’s eyes?
If I Don’t Ask is also a perfect example that while dialogues and banter can be awesome, inner thoughts, when you’re in the head of someone as fascinating and well-written as Rebecca Keane, can be captivating. Even when all she’s thinking about is her attraction to Sabine and how impossible it is. There are other things happening in her life, however, that give a new perspective on her actions.
Rebecca Keane will always have Abby Craden’s voice for me, maybe because she was my first (Ask, Tell was my first Craden narration) or maybe because Abby Craden is perfect for the character. Either way, I had her voice in my head while reading and I’m very impatient to listen to the audiobook and hear her iconic “darling” again…
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