Series: Ashveil Academy #1
Em is confused about a lot of things: who she is, what she wants, how she’s going to pass Alchemy when she’s awful at it. The one thing she’s not confused about is how much she wants to buy her best friend (and college roommate) the best birthday present ever. Luckily the local magic supply shop is hiring.
Her plan to get a job there would be working perfectly if not for her coworker Phineas who is in turns aggravating and endearingly awkward. She’s not sure if she wants to date him or wants to be him. The more time they spend together the more she thinks it may be both.
Help Wanted is an 18,000 word novella with a gender and sexuality questioning f/m romance. It is the first in a new series about students at a contemporary magic college.
Surprise book talk time! Today I’m talking about Help Wanted by J. Emery. I was going to do a proper ramble, but my equipment wasn’t cooperating (read: the ground loop is back and this time it’s so bad my voice gets eaten by the noise reduction too). So a good old-fashioned written talk it is!
CW: descriptions of gender dysphoria
Disclaimer: J. is a twitter friend of mine and I received a copy of this novella for a review.
This is… such an adorable story, though. It’s a slice-of-life university setting with fantasy and, I think, exactly what people are asking for when they’re asking for slice-of-life fiction and cosybright fiction. It’s low-conflict which makes it delightful comfort reading for me. I’d imagine that someone with gender dysphoria might not find it as comforting, though, as Em struggles with figuring out her gender throughout the novella. The narrative relies heavily on descriptions as Em is still in the stages where she doesn’t have words for what she’s feeling.
Helped Wanted is, I think, the first time I’ve read a story that really had the narrator question their gender and I found Emery’s portrayal quite helpful to things I’ve been trying to work out myself. It’s also the third time I’ve really seen a narrative focus on questioning their sexuality and, I have to admit, this is my favourite way of handling it yet. Readers looking for a bit more… certainty in terms of label use aren’t going to find it here, though. It’s all on-page description. Very clear on page descriptions, but if you’re questioning don’t go into it expecting answers. Go into it expecting to leave with the sense that questioning and not having all the answers is okay. Because it is and we have desperately few narratives who try to tackle that. I also really loved the touch-aversion rep that Em has. I really liked seeing that so sympathetically included too.
But, above all, Helped Wanted is a delightful NA novella about the way our lives change in small ways and the ways we can deal with those changes. It’s about friendship and dealing with big changes to your friends’ lives when yours aren’t changing the same way (or so you think). It’s about magic and school and struggling and finding ways to succeed that work for you in a learning environment that doesn’t work for you.
Also Phineas and Em are just the most adorable pair of main characters and I loved the awkwardness of their relationship and the way they’re both struggling with reaching out to the other when people around them make it look easy. It’s sweet and awkward and utterly, utterly enchanting because of it. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a narrative that focuses on a questioning queer person. I can’t wait to read more about the characters at Ashveil Academy!
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