A journey in gender fluidity and a sweet romance
I always look forward to a new book by Rachel Spangler. I don’t like them all and that’s okay, but when I like them, it’s a lot. This English series has been a wonderful surprise since the beginning and I really enjoyed the first two novels, Full English and Modern English. When I started reading this one, it felt like home, in a way. Again, I didn’t like everything, and I was ready to settle on simply having a good time when I got carried away by something way deeper than I expected. Pretty much like Claire and Pip, who agreed to have fun together while they could and didn’t expect anything more real, so to speak.
On the outside, Pip – known to the world as Lady Phillipa Anne Marion Farne-Sacksley of Mulgrave, Vic’s cousin and a distant cousin to my favourite princess, Sasha (The Princess Affair by Nell Stark) – is a carefree young woman enjoying all her privileges to the max. On the inside, things are a lot more complex. When Pip’s motorcycle crashes in Claire’s grandfather’s field, instalust sparks. After growing up in the United States, Claire moved to London but has recently left the City behind to settle in her grandparents’ village of Amberwick. Pip reminds her too much of all the people who broke her heart and she tries very hard to resist the aristocrat’s charms. They agree on a no-strings adventure that will end when Pip goes back home. Best laid plans and all that, the light and fun fling they hoped for turns into a life-changing romance on both sides, with real feelings and real possibilities.
While Plain English is without a doubt a romance novel, it’s also about a journey, Pip’s journey. It’s a story of gender and fluidity, of finding not necessarily who you are but how to convey who you are. I’m not Pip, at all, but I’ve been (and still am) confronted with some of the questions they encounter. That whole she/they thing you’ll see as part of my profile on most social media platforms. While I’ve come to terms with being referred to as a woman, it doesn’t always fit, not one hundred per cent. I’m not a man, I’m not a boy, I’ve never been a girl either. I’m me, and that me is sometimes a woman and sometimes not. What that me is when not a woman is undefined, and I’m okay with that. Now. Even though this book didn’t wow me as much as the previous two did, Pip will probably stay with me for a long time, for all these reasons.
I loved Claire at first sight and needed a little more time to warm up to Pip and that’s probably because I didn’t get a good sense of who they were at first. Since they didn’t either, going on this journey with them was exciting and painful at times, all the way to the HEA. A journey steeped in gender exploration but that spans more widely to class, cultural differences, baggage, self-worth, identity in the broadest meaning. All this in a pretty package full of clever banter, sexy scenes, and all sorts of emotions. I enjoyed being back in Amberwick and seeing what ever-after means for Brogan and Emma on one hand and Vic and Sophia on the other. I look forward to, maybe, someday, reading Reg’s story. 4 stars.