Ernest, a Jewish autistic demiromantic queer fat trans man submissive, and Nora, a Jewish disable queer fat femme cis woman switch, have to contend with an age gap, a desire not to mess up their lovely polyamorous dynamic as metamours, the fact that Ernest has never been attracted to a cis person before, and the reality that they are romantically attracted to each other, while planning their dominant’s birthday party and trying to do a really good job.
I fell in love with Their Troublesome Crush when I saw the cover art. It depicted beautiful art and colors that caught the eye in general but seeing a romance novel that proudly showed not just one but two fat characters, right there on the cover! I squealed in delight and didn’t care who saw me wiggling with happiness. At that point I absolutely had to read this story.
What’s really cool is the author, Xan West, interviewed the artist, Hannah Aroni. It was fabulous to see inside her head a little regarding a cover that will probably be in my top 3 for a very long time.
The Author: Xan West
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat white Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Xan blogs about trans representation in literature, kink, queerness, disability, and writing on this site. Xan also occasionally blogs at other places on the web.
This is not my first Xan West story. I reviewed Best Lesbian Erotica 2019 and their story “Trying Submission” was excellent. Very much worthy of making them a finalist in the John Preston Short Fiction award. You can read my review of that particular story and book (and click through to order your own copy) here.
What I love about West’s books is also the lessons I receive about writing. I am inspired to make my own writing better when I read their work. Just the inclusion of content warnings, cover descriptions for readers that have difficulty seeing, and how they write diversity across the board gets my writer gears turning.
What Did I LOVE About The Book
From the very beginning, I was attracted to the main characters. Ernest is adorable and sweet. I’d have tea with him any day. Nora is sweet switch I am totally digging and I wish I’d met people like this in my early days of BDSM exploration. Even the side characters give me all the warm and fuzzies in their loving care for each other and the main characters.
Unafraid of Fat and Disability
There is a scene in the story where Ernest visits Nora’s home. The space and Nora in it are described beautifully, especially regarding her size. Nora becomes bigger, fatter, more relaxed in her space. The room and furnishings are chosen and arranged to accommodate her size and her mobility issues. Ernest takes all this in, the details are given to the reader unflinchingly without being grotesque. Its how I wish other fat and disabled characters in other books were portrayed – described with love.
Nurturing Care and Access Intimacy
Access Intimacy and Care are what really shine in Their Troublesome Crush that I’ve yet to see in many romances. Not only does West take care to write very real and diverse characters with a variety of needs BUT they also write characters that take care of each other with their needs in mind. My heart grew three sizes when Ernest makes food with their dietary needs in mind.
I’m gonna veer off subject for just a second but one of the first things that endeared this book to me was the very beginning scene when Ernest is trying to decide about ordering cupcakes knowing Nora is diabetic. He can’t decide if ordering the variety of sweet treats would be putting her out or if not ordering them would be stepping on her own autonomy in making decisions about what she can and cannot eat. I nearly cried. I’ve had friends, dates, and family make decisions for me “for my own good” regarding food (I’m not diabetic but this was done regarding other things like my weight and lactose intolerance). Its painful and makes me feel like a child in a not-good way. Seeing a character go over this and choose to allow the other character make decisions for themselves was beautiful and I’m grateful for this scene.
This care goes beyond food and is also revealed in Ernest’s relationship with his Daddy and with his friends. He has very clear, previously discussed, signs when he needs space due to his autism and/or gender dysphoria. His loved ones see these signs, understand that, and act accordingly. This seems simple but its not often I read a book where a Dominant grants the submissive space and its not made into a complicated mess to further the plot line. Instead it shows the love and care between characters, reveals some of their polyamorous connections and understandings, and is just damn real and sweet.
I was impressed by the fact that West did not shy away from food in their book, like many stories with fat characters do. In fact, the book is quite the foodie romance. It starts out with cupcakes and moves into dinners, tea service, and more. I could almost sing “These are a few of my favorite things” just with this theme of the book.
The only thing that could have made this over the top even better was recipes for those cupcakes and sandwiches and other treats available in the back of the book. I’d cook up a storm in my kitchen to celebrate this book.
Something that West does well in Their Troublesome Crush as well as in their short story, Trying Submission, is show BDSM, specifically the D/s dynamic as well as bondage, without making it overtly erotic.
West keys into something many people don’t always understand about this lifestyle – BDSM isn’t always about sex. You can have a very fulfulling BDSM experience or dynamic without including sex. This is revealed in West’s work without detracting at all from the romance or emotion in the story.
I’d love to see more of this discussed in BDSM romances.
Its so rare that I run into a story that truly shows polyamorous relationships in the variety that they can create. Often what I read is harems or reverse harems or close triads that all start with the main character finding love with all of them from the beginning. Their Troublesome Crush shows two characters, already in a polyamorous relationship as metamours for their shared partner. It also shows how their friends, ex lovers, etc interact with this relationship dynamic.
As a polyamorous person, I believe the characters and relationships were very believable and could see it mirrored in the polyam communities I’ve been part of. Its a complicated ballet that I think West executed perfectly in their writing.
Final Reader Thoughts
West includes a fantastic content warning at the beginning of the book as well as on their site page for Their Troublesome Crush. The following is just an additional bit of input for those wondering if this fantastic novel is right for your bookcase.
It’s not a deterrent from reading the book but Their Troublesome Crush did make me have to do some research. I’m not Jewish and I’m also not all that into showtunes. The story focuses on Pesach (Passover) and the main character, Ernest, is a big fan of show tunes (he’s even writing his own musical). So when there was a reference I didn’t understand, I’d pause my reading and do a little search about it online.
Let me emphasize that this research is not necessary to enjoy the book but I like to fully immerse myself in a story and that meant looking up words I didn’t understand and listening to songs I’d never heard before. This was actually a pretty cool experience and I don’t begrudge the book for it at all.