A discussion of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Unsurprisingly, if you read my post on Casey McQuiston’s first novel, I loved this book. It’s just good and it made me feel good. And sometimes, I just want a book to make me smile, instead of making me think too hard about what life or art means. I don’t say this to mean that this book isn’t well-written and fucking clean – every time I read a book that is so cleanly put together, I’m amazed – I just mean that, coming from the MFA/Literary Fiction world, this is a breath of fresh air. Very specifically not a dirty pleasure, because I am not ashamed to say I love her writing, her books, her everything!
I read this book in two days. I was just gripped by it. Jane is Dreamy! Honestly, so is everyone else. I related to August so much, as an indecisive person who also loves hard and as a fellow bisexual. The train scene between Jane and August (you know the one) was …good. It made me forget how grossed out I was about them doing all that on a subway. I loved the New York bits of it. I live in New York and it was cool to recognize things in the novel. (I have not, however, ever heard of a peanut butter and chocolate bagel. An oddity I am intrigued by.)
I read this book during Pride month. During Pride we’re already thinking about the intersection of past, present, and future queerness; which we should probably be doing more than one month a year anyway. The book translates these conversions into fiction beautifully. Jane comes from such a different time than August and her friends. The culture shock she has adjusting to the fact that she can just be gay in 2020 (an alternative 2020), reminded me that her time isn’t that far in the past. But there are still difficulties in the here and now. There is race and gender orientation/expression and other things that make our experiences in this world harder or easier. The book doesn’t ignore any of that. It faces it and it celebrates it and it does not define it’s characters by it.
McQuiston knows how to write characters that I would genuinely want to be friends with. Niko, Myla, Wes, Isaiah, Annie, everyone. I would love to go out with all of them. They just feel safe. I understand the people in this book. I love books about women in their 20s. In my opinion, there is a gap in fiction content about characters in their teens vs adulthood. (I know I’m an adult technically, but experience in your 20s vs 30s is different.) I feel like writers now are trying to fix that. McQuiston too. August and her friends really reflect what my 20s have been like so far. August has found a family in this book. Not because they are or are not all disconnected from their families, but also because your friends raise you. August and Jane and every other amazing character help each other through life. Just because you turn 18 doesn’t mean you know everything, doesn’t mean you’ve stopped growing, stopped needing like an Uncle Jesse to sum up a lesson for you. And a lot of the time your friends are there to do that – not for you, but with you.
I’ve read criticisms of the contemporary references in McQuiston’s fiction. I think they make the novel feel more real for her audience. Most people McQuiston is writing to and for would understand most of the references on some level. They made me personally feel like I understood the characters more. I knew their contexts, their world. But I understand the arguments of references dating a novel. Maybe some of these references will be totally lost in a few years, but that’s why reference notes exist.
There were some plot things I didn’t love, little things that maybe the novel didn’t have space to expand on. SPOILERS. Uncle Augie being alive after the fire (arson) at the bar where he worked, but dead in a car accident years later felt like whiplash to me. I do understand why he was dead. It would have been sad for him to not contact his sister at all after all these years if he was still alive. I also kind of wanted to see August and her mom make up after their big fight. We don’t see it and I felt like it would have completed their arc better to be in-text. Still, I loved the book and everything that happened in it. These small things are only my opinion. I just want to see everything that happens and for it all to be happy! (Unrealistic, I know.)
Just like Red, White, and Royal Blue, McQuiston has written another book that I am adding to my favorites. To be read again when I am feeling low, time travel-ly, or I want to relive the subway scene (again). No seriously, it’s a fantastic novel and I can’t wait for what else is to come from one of my favorite authors.