Louise Willingham is an environmental scientist and writer whose interests vary from Pre-Raphaelite art to going to rock and metal concerts. While studying for her BSc at Keele University, she was a regular at the village pub quiz and a vocal member of the LGBT+ society committee. Not Quite Out is their debut novel.
I'm starting my review by saying: if you're the author reading this, this is my brutally honest opinion and I'd prefer if you didn't use it against me. It's at your discretion to read a review of your book with an intentional lack of star rating. Please note, I'm trans gay man reading this book. My view is from the perspective of someone who's gone through a coming out journey.
I read NOT QUITE OUT aloud, to my boyfriend, in a mock-audiobook form. From the summary, cover, and tweets I'd read, I was extremely interested. It sounded like a book I could get behind. From the get-go, the book had red flags. Will, the MC, was far too interested in the stranger, Daniel, and swooned purely over Daniel asking if he wanted a cheese topping on his jacket potato. For Will, that was the start of their love story. For me as a reader, it was the start of the absolute hell I was about to be dragged in to through this story.
Will is a closeted bisexual whose self-entitlement and self-importance and awful behaviours makes him an extremely hateable main character. He has absolutely nothing to him except what's happening in other people's lives. The only problems he faces are his ex-girlfriend--who never wanted to spend time with him and I can absolutely see why--and being closeted. He surrounds himself with LGBT friends, who all openly, repeatedly say they accept and love him no matter what. Will never faces any hint of oppression for his sexuality, is part of a welcoming community, but fears coming out. While this could seem okay, his friends constantly ask gently if he's bi/into men/is gay. Will gets quite offensively defensive over the questions, acknowledges his friends would probably be fine with it, but whines for the whole book about how he won't come out and they'll hate him. But, that's Will: he creates drama from nothing. He's paranoid, obsessive, and completely unlikeable.
He drops and picks up his friends, using them as he sees fit to gain from them. He argues with them when they give him some truths, and when nobody listens to him, he goes off crying and makes someone else's genuine issue about himself. Honestly, if there's two seconds not about Will's whining, he will find a way to make it in the next second.
Dan is the love interest, aged 25-26, and had the potential to be a good character. He wasn't unlikeable--but he was made unlikeable by association to Will. I felt sorry for Daniel in the sense that he had genuine problems and battles to fight that could have complexly explored but the author chose to ignore them and only used them when they antagonised Will's desire for a perfect, deluded concept of loving Daniel. Will very much picked and chose what parts of Daniel to like, and scorned him for the parts he didn't. He ignored the less bright parts of Daniel, which is a very asshole thing to do. Will's has a saviour complex, and that's the extent of his attraction towards Daniel. He wants to save him, and when he doesn't know how because Daniel is six-seven years older than him and had a life before Will, Will cries and makes Daniel rush to his side. Honestly, what did he think Daniel did before meeting him? Cry in a corner somewhere? In a very manipulative, toxic, gross way, this is how the relationship goes on for 300+ pages.
I hated the age gap. I absolutely hated it. I hated how the author referenced Will being a baby. There's a part where Daniel says he was part of the Russian military--how it was discussed that part of that included him killing men. Will says he doesn't care. He doesn't care?? I'd very much damn care if I was him and the person I liked had killed men in the name of war. Not only that but Will says he is proud of Daniel. Again: utter, complete bullshit. I hated how condescending Will was--how he basically thought he had to fix everyone or he'd die. His only character trait is wanting to obsessively--almost creepily--fix Daniel, and everyone compliments him on this like he was a hero. He wasn't. The entire book could have pretty much still happened without Will being in it--and probably would have been way better for that.
The writing is poor, feels vastly unresearched, and Dan and Will have about four affectionate gestures that are recycled paragraph after paragraph to the point where I felt like I was reading the same chapters over and over. NOT QUITE OUT is marketed as a "slow burn". Yet the love element happens while Will refuses to come out to Dan but still acts like he's in a couple and expects that same behaviour back. When he doesn't get that because Dan is probably trying to protect them both, he pouts like a baby. A literal child.
I hated the way the author used heroin addiction, self harm, and abortion as shock twists. I hate that heroin withdrawal is far more ugly and awful and fierce than what's depicted, and Will judged Dan for smoking and berated him for it like a damn life coach. I hated how Dan had genuine issues but the timeline of the book was so over the place it was hard to know where the hell he was up to--the author makes it sound like he still took drugs at the start but then Dan says he's been clean for weeks, then, the next week, for months--and everything just became about the author dragging Will and Dan into a bubble of ignorance just to get some attempted fluffy gay scenes in bed.
The tropes were grossly done--including one bed, which is far too obsessive and creepy from Will's perspective. It felt like "oh, I just met this boy, oh GOD WHY IS HE NOT HUGGING ME IN BED???". Then, there's a personal hated toxic one for bisexual characters: the MC doesn't get the boy he wants so he turns to the safest choice girl and they sleep together. Achilles (SONG OF ACHILLES), Jason McConnell (BARE), Tanner (AUTOBOYOGRAPHY), and many more. Will is the next one to the list, except he's unlikeable and I wished I'd never met him as a character. Thus, from this mistake, there's a pregnancy scare, which leads to an abortion, of which Will is included in the scenes with his ex-girlfriend, Lilley. Lilley, bleeding, nauseous, vomiting, going through hell with her body, swallows her own needs and lets Will run off to be with Dan. He completely forgets about her, then does the asshole thing of not taking attention to his phone after he tells Lilley to call him if she needs him. He honestly doesn't give a shit and deludes himself into thinking she'll be fine. Will is honestly gross. I've never hated a book character so much.
Another gross element that sat so uncomfortably with me: Will cannot hold secrets. Will cannot discern what's his business and what isn't. He tells his friends about Dan's heroin addiction, his abusive relationship, and then tells Dan things about his friends. He outs them, he shares their information--and just all-round clearly has no sense of personal boundaries because he's never had to deal with anything serious or hard in his life. He reeks of toxic privilege. He villanises his best friend who only ever wanted to be there for him, and the author tries to make a reader hate that best friend for getting between Dan and Will. Will is obsessed with the idea of his best friend liking Dan, and we're supposed to go along with the idea that it's a shock that his best friend likes Will himself. What poor taste. A reader is supposed to feel the shock Will feels when he finds out Daniel likes him--but it's laughably bad writing. There's no shock value to what the author has tried to give that to. The hyperbole is done so poor.
I don't regret reading this book, if only to write a review and hope that others can see the errors I have and stay away. This is toxic bisexual rep with a character who only sees himself and fuck anyone else who tries to smash his picture of perfection. Will is not the bisexual hero you think he is; he's stalker-ish, creepy, obsessive, paranoid, and an all-round asshole.
I'm sorry to the author for such a bluntly harsh bad review but I had such a negative experience reading this book. Dan and Will are forced together for the sake of the mlm romance, but the author tells us what their relationship is. The bare glimpses we get of being shown is completely different. I don't want to be told how they are because it was gross and did not make sense or add up. If I was Dan, I'd have run a thousand miles from a creepy boy who decided to be in love with him because of A) a cheese topping remembrance, and B) Will obsessing that Daniel looked unhappy the literal second time he ever saw him. What a toxic story with no plot because the main character couldn't see past his childish behaviour and saviour complex long enough to realise he only meddles in other people's issues. He does nothing to fix them and everything to make it about how he's affected. Oh, boo fucking hoo, Will.
Apparently the author, a queer online book store and their “publisher” are disregarding negative reviews as “rants” rather than reviews. Want a review? Here’s a review.
Why this book is bad, in basic words, cause apparently we can’t grasp big ones.
Firstly, the quality of the writing, overall, is poor. Not only is the writing (first person present) extremely clunky and taxing to read, there appears to be very little editing, developmental or otherwise, and the internal book formatting is poor. The author uses things like abortion to add shock value rather than further the plot and has managed to write entirely unlikable characters across the board.
The relationship between Will and Dan is unhealthy, with Will falling into an alarming obsession with Dan quite literally at first sight. Will decides that he is the only one who can fix/save/love Dan and proceeds to force himself into his life, discusses any of Dans serious problems with whoever and his entire character reads as a “saviour” with this belief he is the one who can save Dan. Will is controlling and self centred, upset when Dan doesn’t do as he wants constantly.
Let’s go into what is my biggest gripe with this book; the portrayal of recovery from heroin addiction.
Firstly, yes heroin addiction impacts everyone differently, often due to the length of time someone used for. But the way it is dragged out in this book ranks it about as seriously as the common cold.
Heroin addiction is not only hard to overcome, it is a life long. You are never recovered, you are always recovering.
Withdrawal in this book is portrayed as nightmares and vomiting, cured with cuddles, sleep and the odd therapist call. Yes, vomiting is a symptom, I’ll give the author that, but what is known as acute withdrawal symptoms, (muscle aches and pain, stomach cramping, nausea, mood changes, irritability, sweats, tachycardia (increased heart rate) anxiety and panic attacks to list some) typically do not last beyond a week. Long term symptoms can vary but most commonly are anxiety, fatigue, depression, irritability and sleep disruption. Heroin, quite simply, impacts the happy centre of your brain which is why it is so hard to shake. In this book, the addiction is romanticised. It makes heroin addiction and plain old addiction, seem more of a choice. That staying off heroin is just a decision and that a phone call with a therapist is all you need, along with Wills love of course. Will frequently offers Dan painkillers as well, which recovering addicts will tell you, they avoid unless beyond words required. But Will is there saying ‘painkillers?’ like it’s candy. Will talks down to Dan, questions his sobriety and shames him through his actions and words. This also ties into how Will treats Dan in regards to his relationship that was physically violent. He acts like it is simple to cut ties with an abuser. Again. Not how domestic violence works. Victims of domestic violence often feel like “this is the best I can do” or “I deserve this” in some way. But Will makes this to be nothing more than a choice Dan needs to make and treats him like a toddler when he is found trying to see his abuser in hospital. Overall, incredibly poor and harmful portrayals.
My experience with this? Life with an addict and abuser.
The “publisher” (who appears to be nothing more than an intermediary between a writer and Ingram Spark self publishers rather than a small press), the author and her friends (which include the bookstore Queer Lit UK) seemingly got wind of my dislike of the book and have consistently watched my Instagram stories and then responded to them via vague tweet, as well as dismissing negative comments about the book as unsubstantial. Not only is this hilarious, it’s unprofessional on every level. Not once have I publicly named the book, the author, the store or the publisher, SRL Publishing. They all, however, have chosen to disregard how the portrayal of things in this book are problematic and harmful rather than address them. It is apparently much easier to claim people are wrong or focus on other non existent issues (age gap/bi rep) rather than the glaring ones.
Author and Publisher have still not addressed any of the issues.
The publisher also decided that a twitter thread the day before release date talking about PROFESSIONALISM was the way forward and when he didn’t like my replies (level and civil I have screenshots) he deleted the entire thread.
You literally could not pay me to read his grocery receipts (this is funny if you google the publisher, then the owner and see his self published book)
Buckle in, because I have a lot of rambles and thoughts...or what the author/publisher is considering “rants” cause apparently not having high praise for a book means it’s not a valid review.
I have no problem admitting that I’m angry at this book. I’m angry due to the romanticisation of the saviour complex and drug addiction/withdrawal.
Will was a huge issue in the book for me. His weird “I need to save him” when it comes to Dan was so unhealthy and weirdly creepy from the first few pages. The obsession Will instantly gets for Dan was a huge red flag and the fact that Will was constantly just doey-eyed over him just felt very out of place for what was actually happening in the book.
Like...of course Will had to force himself to be a caretaker for a man that’s several years older than him, who he also barely knew. The white Knight syndrome was so uncomfortable to read and I genuinely don’t understand how the author didn’t see this as bad.
There’s a point in the book where something happens to Dan and Will instantly asks “did you take drugs?” which...uh...*white man blinking gif*. Do you know how hurtful and how harmful that can be to someone coming off drugs? How triggering that can also be? It also shows that Will doesn’t trust Dan (or even knows him well enough) as a person.
The way withdrawal was described and mentioned in the book was done poorly and adds to the romanticisation of “let’s make this dude be a drug addict so the main character can make him better.” Yes withdrawal can be different for everyone, but it just didn’t sit right with me. The timelines of Dan’s drug abuse/etc seemed very confusing.
The author took some “pretty” symptoms and rolled with that instead of writing what a lot of addicts actually go through. It just felt poorly done and I think it could really harm a lot of readers who have grown up with addicts or may be recovering addicts themselves.
Another few issues I had was; * Will keeps asking if Dan needs painkillers, which...was another red flag in my notes. You don’t ask a recovering addict if he wants painkillers for intense pain because nothing will help broken ribs unless it’s strong medication which is a huge no for addicts. * The constant comments about Dan’s smoking...which was really absurd and somewhat nasty. Sure, let’s mock the addict for having another addiction. * Will acting like it’s somehow easy to leave an abusive relationship. He treats Dan like a child and tries to control him, which....ding ding ding, is also abusive. (Or are we forgetting that abuse isn’t just black and white?) * The outing of Dan’s abuse and addiction. Will cannot hold his tongue and somehow felt the need to share private information that could hurt Dan * Will infantilises Dan, which felt really uncomfortable most of the time, especially when Will tries to make Dan’s problems about himself.
As someone who’s went through very close experiences for my whole life with recovering addicts, I personally cannot recommend this book.
I’d also like to state that I have no issue with age gap (as my own writing has age gap), that I’m trans and very gay, so none of that comes into play while I wrote this review. There’s no negative feelings for the age gap or bi rep and the writing isn’t the worst I’ve read, but the plot was harmful, the main character was abusive with his saviour complex and the withdrawal/addiction was done very poorly.
Side note: As an author, you’re obviously doing something wrong with the fact that some reviewers are being scared to post negative reviews because they don’t want to be called out and vagued about. Also stalking people’s accounts who have stated their negative reviews is the height of unprofessionalism.
It is very clear that little to no research went into this book. From the depiction of addiction, the glorification of stalking and the main character's toxic behaviour; down to the way all the "heavy content" was used as shock value and never properly explored. This is not to say that you can't write an unlikeable/stupid/awful character, because you absolutely can. But when you reward the MC with a happy ending and zero growth, that's when a story becomes problematic.
So this review has been difficult for me to figure out. What this book does right? The basic concept. The plot of this story, falling in love with someone who is battling an addiction, and also being afraid to come out in even what seems like a supportive situation. I think both of these situations make for a great storylines and had me incredibly excited for this release. Also, New Adult is totally a genre that needs exploring and I looked forward to the fact that there would be more adult topics covered. However..
This book at a basic level is just romanticizing an unhealthy codependent relationship. Will is such a clingy character and behaves far younger than his age. He goes up to someone, basically a stranger, and assumes that they’re being abused. Which.. what?? That being said, the age gap was totally fine. Likely the only reason why people are having an issue with it are because Will responds to problems like a child and Dan has been through so much, so it seems like a much larger gap than it actually is. But even then, they’re both consenting adults and the actual age difference is by far not the biggest problem in this book.
The most harmful thing about this book is that the bare minimum research, if any at all, has been done about addiction. I don’t have personal experience, but even I can tell the language around it is just.. incorrect and awkward. Other reviews do a better job at describing the issues, and I strongly suggest checking those out for further information. Also Will stressing about Dan smoking cigarettes while he’s handling a heroin addiction, I don’t know, seems like the wrong focus. On top of that, Dan was literally traumatized by being in the Russian military and will more or less says “I’m proud of you for that” like. That really just doesn’t seem like the right response.
I am so not a fan of the ‘bisexual character runs to the girl directly after things get hard’. It’s a common trope, and it seemed like it was thrown into this book without adding much to the story, other than the fact he could ditch her while she gets an abortion later. That being said, I really want to stress the fact that the adult topics in this book are NOT the problem I have with it. Had it been done well I would have loved to read this book.
The whole book Will is stressing about coming out, even though he’s surrounded by supportive friends. That’s a unique coming out experience that I’m really glad is being represented. However, the supportive friends continue to insist on pushing Will of the closet and then never get any consequences for that. Will used his friends and that’s basically the only reason those friends are even in the story. There’s nothing wrong with having an unlikable main character, but his behavior wasn’t addressed as being wrong at ALL and still gets his perfect ending at the end.
The most disappointing aspect of this book is that it really could have been good. The basic concept was great and I really loved the idea of it, it just needed a whole lot more research.
An added note:
ON TOP of just how problematic this book is, the publisher and author have dodged addressing the actual issues with the book, and instead have focused on calling negative reviews ‘rants’ and dismissing them completely (on top of stalking peoples pages). The problem is not that addiction is included in the book, it is HOW INCREDIBLY POORLY the research is done around it. They insist on only addressing the issues that they can refute, I.e people having a problem with the bisexuality/coming out experience (like literally no one is mad about that) and also the age gap between 2 consenting adults. Not a word has been said about the harmful addiction and abuse representation. I am not sure if this is by direction from the publisher or not, seeing as they have totally over-invested their time into protecting this book’s reviews.
I found that one out the hard way when I tweeted about a different situation and had the PUBLISHER contact me via their personal account asking me if my tweet, which did not mention the book at all, was about this book and how I received it early. Neither of us followed each other, so super creepy behavior that he thought to respond to me. All in all, could not have been handled worse, especially given the subtweets about sharing arcs (which seems like a funny thing to stress about the day before release and probably wouldn’t be happening if the reviews were positive) directly following on the official publisher page. The publisher still has not made any sort of official apology on their personal page about how they’ve been harassing their readers. Seems like they’re just going to move on like it hasn’t happened bc they can get away with bullying small creators. I was not the only person that it has happened to and it will 100% stop me from purchasing any of their books in the future.
Stay FAR FAR away from this book and SRL Publishing.
One star. And that’s being kind because at 4% I considered putting this book down and never picking it up again and I sincerely wish I’d listened to my instincts.
There wasn’t a SINGLE thing I liked about this book. Author’s behaviour aside, this book was a gross mess. Topics like fear of coming out, domestic abuse, substance abuse, emotional manipulation, drug overdose, and abortion were handled so poorly that I can only assume the author has never been in ANY of these situations because if they had they wouldn’t have written so callously about them.
A little empathy goes a long way as a writer, and Louise Willingham would do well to remember that in future works.
Will was one of the worst main characters I’ve ever encountered. He had no depth to him, nothing that made me give a shit about him, and not a single redeeming quality to take my attention away from his superiority complex that’s so large I’m certain it enters the room a good 10 seconds before the rest of his body does.
The relationship he develops with Daniel, a college student who’s fighting to kick a drug addiction, escape a domestic abuse situation, and manage a degree/job, is monumentally fucked up. Will is drawn to Dan and spends the first few chapters of the book badgering him for attention.
When Dan finally gives in and gives Will the time of day, it’s increasingly obvious that the only reason Will even wants to help Dan is to get into his pants. He doesn’t see him as a person. He sees him as something to be fixed, someone to attain, someone he deserves to have once he’s been the hero and saved the day.
I’d like to bring your attention to a line on page 36: “he’s no less beautiful for his injuries. I would almost say that they add a heroism to him.” That was the line that made me truly hate William and, by extension, the author. It’s beyond fucked up to romanticise domestic abuse. It’s sick and cruel and if I’d known this book was going to be an abusive relationship wankfest I’d never have picked it up in the first place.
Their whole relationship just made me uncomfortable and angry. Will treats his other friends like garbage when they enquire after his well-being, but expects Dan to drop to his knees and express his greatitufe every time will notices he’s not feeling well. He never says “no need to thank me” when Dan says thank you after every little thing, he says “your welcome” and it’s a two word reminder that he expected to be thanked for saying he wants to help. He’s not helping because he cares, he’s helping to stroke his own ego.
And on the topic of friends, it’s a wonder Will had ONE, let alone THREE. I would have ditched that stuck up prick the second he treated me the way he treated Peter. Man, Peter cared about him and Will basically shoved that back in his face at every opportunity. It was painfully obvious that Peter was just part of the story to minimise Will’s internal homophobia. It was awful to read.
The whole book was really just awful to read. Shitty characters, shitty writing, jarring sentences and chapters that started and ended so abruptly I had whiplash. Two-dimensional characters, and a drug abuse plot point that seems like it was added after the book was finished because the rest of the plot was garbage.
Anyway, I’m not wasting any more time thinking about this book. I’ve read it, I hated it, I won’t read another of Louise Willingham’s books, and I certainly won’t be recommending it. Done and dusted. Good luck to you if you decide to waste your time reading it
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
On reflection I believe this book deserves a more detailed review so have edited my original one.
Normally I don’t enjoy slow burns but I was hooked and invested from Will and Dan’s first chance meeting right to the last page. I can’t think about jacket potatoes without thinking about these two. This is a great testament to the writing style.
I absolutely adore everything about Dan. He is a unique and complicated character and I really felt for him throughout. He’s had a difficult life thus far and is really trying to turn his life around (and Will wants to help).
Okay, Will is kind of annoying but he means well and what 19 year old (or any age) is perfect? He’s still completely lovable.
NQO is gritty - but the subjects it covers are dealt with sensitively.
Will is Bisexual and although he has a close group of LGBT+ friends he finds it hard to accept this about himself. It is an individual journey and it highlights that even with support, “coming out” can be extremely scary and difficult.
This book has been beautifully and thoughtfully written and is a wonderful read. It is tender and soft despite some of the difficult topics — could maybe even be triggering for some, but nevertheless these are issues many people face throughout their lives. It is messy but a realistic portrayal of how life can be. This book refuses to follow genre norms and is told from a unique (own) voice.
I cannot wait to read any further works by this author.
Worst book of 2021. I've seen so much interest about this book on Twitter and although it's not a genre I've read in a while, I used to love reading romance and this was so disappointing. We are promised slow burn and all we actually get is a main character who acts like a complete stalker and is completely insensitive towards the love interests, Dan, addiction - why does he keep offering him painkillers when he knows that he struggles with addiction?!?! Would not recommend you read this.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. It’s an inherently human story, so the characters are flawed and things get messy. There’s drug addiction, abortion, and failed and abusive relationships.
Our main character is a young and naïve 19 year old med student named Will whose main drive in life is a desire to help people. He’s also coming to terms with the fact that he’s bi, and facing the dreaded issue of coming out.
The love interest is a guy in his mid-twenties named Daniel. He’s an addict, a smoker, a survivor of conscription… and he’s stuck in an abusive relationship.
Will, having witnessed abusive relationships before, instantly knows something’s off with Dan, and sets out to help. He is persistent, even where Daniel falters or pushes him away, because Will recognises there’s a serious problem here and wants to pull him out of it.
It’s a fantastic post-adolescent angst novel about two young, queer men trying to find their feet in life and struggling through all the challenges young people can stumble into before they truly understand themselves. It’s a deep, sometimes dark, and thoroughly human dive into a very tangled situation, and the story of how the two of them come through it as survivors.
On a personal note, I enjoyed the fact that they’re such realistic people. They make mistakes, take the wrong path at times, and flail when things look truly bad. But they persevere through. I think it’s a great display of LGBTQ+ rep because it doesn’t pretend that queerness is always perfect: it shows that queer people are just people, complete with tangled relationships and failures. And I think that’s very important, if only to teach young queers who find themselves in these situations that it’s okay that everything isn’t sunny and it’s alright if it’s not going to plan. Stick together, forgive, trust each other, and you’ll get there.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and am updating my review now I have taken part in the blog tour.
One of the things that I liked most about this book was the writing. You can clearly see how much time and care was spent on writing and editing this book because the end result was beautiful. Though some moments felt a little rushed, such as the first meeting, I liked how it was able to really slow down and make you live in the present with these characters. It is the very definition of slow burn romance. The romance itself was really well written and developed and I’m glad that they were able to grow as friends before becoming more.
The representation of bisexuality in this book is some of the best representation that I’ve ever read. I know myself and many others will really relate to how Will feels not quite out throughout the book, even when people around him are open and telling him that it’s okay. I really related to the feelings of inadequacy, not being queer enough, and not knowing if/how/when to even do it. I think it was really important that despite all this that the author was really clear about Will being bisexual from the very beginning. So many books refuse to even use the word so it was refreshing for it to be used in such a normalised and honest way.
Another thing that is incredibly normalised in this book is seeking help, developing support systems, and having therapy. I think it’s really important to show people that it’s okay to struggle and that getting help when you need to is a strong thing to do. The book is targeted towards a new adult audience, a time of life that is incredibly difficult and stressful as you start to navigate the world on your own and find your place, and it’s a message that people of that age really need to hear. I love that Dan regularly talks to a therapist in the book and that it is shown to help him. I think portrayals like this will give people hope and allow them to see it’s potential.
The book in general is full of representation, for sexuality, mental illness, and more. I’m aware of the negative feedback this book has received surrounding the portrayal of addiction, abusive relationships, and abortion, but it wouldn’t be my place to comment on the accuracy of these portrayals. I know that the author always has and always will have good intentions, any inaccuracies would not have been done on purpose to lessen the severity or romanticise them. It is one of the only books I’ve ever read with printed content warnings which is something that I really appreciate and think all books should do. None of the topics were used for cheap shock value because it was always clear from the start that they would be part of the story with the intent of representation which is really refreshing.
The characters in this book feel very real. They all have hopes, dreams, flaws, problems, and more. They make mistakes like any normal person would and they don’t always do the right thing, but this is a very human quality and I loved the book for it. One character in particular who I really liked and I wish we had seen more of is Lilley. She came into the story a lot more towards the end, but I would have loved to know even more about her and for us to spend more time with her throughout. The main character, Will, was a great character to follow, despite how frustrating he could be at times. In a way, how frustrating he was is one of the things that makes him endearing. I also really loved Dan and I think that they really compliment each other well and make a good team together.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and am really grateful that I had the opportunity to read it. I can’t wait to read anything and everything else that they write in the future because I’m sure it will be just as beautiful!
Thank you so much to SLR Publishing for the ARC of this book!
William is a med student at Keele University. He's fresh into a new semester when he meets Daniel, a mysterious stranger that Will is immediately drawn to, and concerned about. Dan is fresh out of an abusive relationship and struggling with drug addiction. Will can't help but want to try to help Dan, his growing feelings aside. He's not quite out to anyone yet, so what's the point in being out to Dan?
This book is the ultimate slow burn, hurt/comfort AO3 tag. I love the authors writing here. It's so emotional, and I felt Will's pining in my bones. It's a story about healing and putting aside your wants for the needs of someone else. Will is obviously enamored of Dan from the beginning. He's a good-looking guy with a killer smile and Will is caught in a dizzying torrent of desire and fear. He struggles continuously with his sexuality throughout the book. He decides he's just going to help Dan because Dan doesn't need a relationship right now, he needs a friend.
Will can sometimes be a bit much as a character. He's fragile and feels everything so incredibly deeply. That's not a bad thing on its own, but there were definitely times I felt bad for Dan with how needy Will was without admitting he wanted a relationship. I understand why he didn't -- he was scared of coming out, he was scared of rejection, he was scared of taking advantage of Dan when he was in a vulnerable place. It was just a situation where it felt like a lot could be solved by an honest conversation.
Dan is likable in the sense that I just wanted to wrap him up and take care of him. He goes through so much over the course of the book, and I appreciate how the author handled the abusive relationship aspect of it. It's not easy to get out of a situation where you've been severely manipulated the entire time. It's not easy to come off of a drug habit that helps you forget. We see Dan's journey of healing throughout the book, and the great thing about it is that it's not linear. He still slips sometimes, and that's completely believable.
Will's friends called him on his bullshit when he started completely ignoring everything for a guy, and I was glad to see it. He wasn't great to them, and they all acknowledge that. They support him and love him, but don't let him get away with it. They were great side characters, but I do wish we could've seen more of the girls.
Overall, I was hooked by this book. I read the entire thing in a weekend because I needed to know what happened. I needed to see if Will would finally just say it! I appreciated the back and forth on the bi rep because even with a wonderful support system, it can be scary. It can feel like 'I'm not gay enough to claim this'. It can be internalized bi-phobia. It wasn't perfect and wonderful and a big celebration of coming out, and I think that's more realistic sometimes.
Solid 4/5 stars and I can't wait to see what else we get from this author!
Content Note: Please note that the author includes a content warning for abortion, drug addiction, abuse, and self harm.
Not Quite Out is a thoughtful and enjoyable read that follows Will, a med student still figuring himself out, and Dan, a gentle souled ex-soldier struggling with trauma and addiction. This book does a great job of touching on difficult subjects and treating people as complicated wholes. I love stories that allow their characters to be messy and imperfect, and at nineteen years old things can get very much that. The nuanced flaws give the characters depth, and though Will's neediness and tendency to make other peoples problems about how they make him feel, his true and genuine appreciation of Dan frames that conflict with his own self to help him develop throughout the story. It was great to read a perspective rarely told - someone who is sure that they have the support waiting for them if they take the plunge, but are struggling with themself like standing at the edge of the diving board, second guessing themselves whether or not to jump. The pacing allows events to unfold, and helps us better understand Will as he figures out exactly who he wants to be, and more importantly, when. The narrative has bite, and the character flaws with the slow burn and wholesome intentions give plenty to love about this book, and leave you with the feeling that the two will continue to grow together after the story ends. Overall, an extremely exciting debut and I can't wait to see what the author does next!
If you’re looking for an intense, quiet, slow-burn, messy love story that’s also a coming-out story and a coming-of-age story, look no further. NOT QUITE OUT is an important look at aspects of queerness and queer love that often get brushed over by publishing, but which should leave a lot of readers feeling seen.
This is the story of William, a second-year medical student in the UK, and Daniel, a political science major from Russia who works in the student union. Note that this is NOT YA. Both of these men are full-grown adults with messy adult lives, even if there’s still a hint of teenage awkwardness about 19-year-old William, especially.
William knows he’s bi, but he’s not out to his friends or family. He’s fairly newly single, and he’s pretty much smitten with Daniel the first time they meet. Daniel is in an abusive relationship that he gets out of fairly early in the story, but the scars it leaves may never fully heal. Their relationship is... lovely, really. It starts out with some obvious attraction that just can’t turn immediately to romance for all of these reasons, and blossoms into a friendship and then into what could probably be mistaken for a queerplatonic relationship, if only the reader wasn’t in William’s head to get a first-hand glimpse of how badly he wants it to be romantic as well.
The complicated, slow-burn, maybe-kinda-friends-to-lovers romance rang as incredibly REAL to me. It’s gritty, it’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it felt RIGHT for the characters, and let’s face it, not every real-life relationship features romantic heroes sweeping one another instantly off their feet. There is some very real love, though, in the fierce care they feel for one another, and it grows and smoulders hotter (not in that sense; there’s no on-page sex, but some of the touches and kisses and bed-sharing were incredibly hot to me) as the story goes on.
The POV is a close, emotional first-person present—we see William’s thoughts, but not Daniel’s. I thought that was a great choice for the story, as we get to know Daniel in bits and pieces as he drops his shields to reveal bits of himself to William, and kept the focus of the story fairly small and intense.
I also enjoyed the coming-out aspect of it... William isn’t really sure why he isn’t ready to come out. He’s a part of the university’s LGBT circle as an ally, and he knows his friends and family won’t have a problem with him being bi. But he still isn’t ready, and I LOVED seeing that on the page. Not everyone comes out in high school. Not everyone can put their finger on why it’s so hard to just say it: “I’m bi.” I was definitely rooting for him to finally take that step, but it was definitely refreshing to see his coming-out unfold the way it did, in a way that felt human, and imperfect, and real.
The author has listed plenty of content warnings for this book, so I’m not going to do that here... do be aware that it is not a light, fluffy love story. If you’re looking for a couple of flawed, messy characters who sometimes hurt each other and sometimes hurt themselves and still somehow manage to be mostly OK—if not quite out—together, I think you’ll enjoy this one at lot. I know I did.
Edit: After reading some of the other reviews, I’d like to add that I know nothing at all about heroin addiction and can’t speak at all to how accurate this book was on that count. Because I’m neither able to agree with or refute the negative reviews, I stand by this review as an accurate reflection of MY reading experience. Do be aware that this was the experience of a reader with no knowledge or experience related to that particular aspect of the book.
I'll update once I've read the whole thing but oh my gosh. Gay trans dude here. Not usually a fan of romance in real life or literature but this may just be the book that changes my mind. Character introduction is adorable. Writing is easy to follow without too much bulk dragging the story down. Lush! Also giving me cravings for a jacket potato..?
You may have noticed Not Quite Out has been causing a sandstorm of interest via Twitter and Instagram. Because I’ve kept a close eye on Willingham's posts over the last couple of months, I’ve had a reasonable idea of the plot, the boys and what might be happening in this novel.
There isn’t a chance I’d spoil your experience of this book by giving too much away but I will discuss the outline of the story, my thoughts of the two boys and my own experienced with regards to the topics within the book.
William, this shy and fragile young boy at Keele University studying to become a Doctor. A self-proclaimed NERD and complete light weight when it comes to alcohol. Yet what William shows you through this book is the passion and utter surrender of oneself to another. To discover the faults and weaknesses of somebody and the ability to look past them to see the brightness they hide within.
Daniel, a tall handsome blonde Russian whose been drawn into a world of sex, drugs and… an abusive relationship. You can’t help but fall for Daniel from the first moment he’s mentioned on the page. This vulnerability he so honestly portrays just makes you want to whisk him up and save him from the horrors of the world.
From start to finish the book is written from Williams perspective as he attempts to rescue Daniel from the tight grips of an abusive partner. It flows in a conversational style while never forgetting to supply you all descriptive details you need to just fall in love with every character. The plot flows in the direction you would expect for a young love, coming of age YA novel but certainly does have a few plot twists to keep your interest peeked.
Willingham did a spectacular job of creating sexual suspense. I was made to turn every page expecting a first touch, kiss or embrace. While they are there throughout the book, I would say I was defiantly left wanting more, yet that may have been the idea. The ones that are there are pure, innocent and incredible moving. While having all the above causing a wonderful euphoria at every page turn, we are brought down to earth rapidly when tougher subjects are approached. Let’s not forget the first page of this book states “This book contains references to abortion, PTDS, drug addiction, abusive relationships and self-harm.” While drug addition is of course a main focus of the book the other parts are approached in a softer more general term.
We won’t discuss how this tail ends, as of course you must discover for yourself wither Daniel can be saved and if William can be his one saviour.
Will is bi, but no one knows. Or he thinks no one knows. He doesn’t understand his own reluctance to come out, given his supportive uni friends, tolerant parents and a sister who’s got his back the whole way. He’s recently broken up with his girlfriend, Lilly, and has sworn off relationships, at least while he’s working hard on his medical degree. Then he meets Dan - exotic, troubled Dan - and that’s it. Dan’s gay, which should make life a lot easier, except it doesn’t. Willingham has a good touch for scene setting, but it’s her characters who really spring to life with all their emotional baggage, doubts and charm. A sensitive, heart warming book.
Trigger Warning: The book contains descriptions of trauma, domestic abuse, and drug addiction.
I think this is the first romance novel that I've read with a bisexual character as a protagonist - the way the author approached questions around sexuality, around coming out, and around domestic abuse were a mix of good and questionable. Of course, there were some things that we aren't privy to as the book is told from William's (the protagonist) perspective, so there are some details that we simply will not know. The way time flows in this novel is very quick, so the leaps and bounds in the way the relationship progresses are justifiable, along with the way Daniel's (the love interest) addiction is portrayed (at least, that's the way I see it. I know other reviewers who may not agree with me, but to each their own).
A short summary: Daniel is an English medical student at Keele University, and he falls in love with Daniel, a Russian poli-sci student who works part-time at the university cafeteria. It's a typical story of love at first sight, where William ends up providing a helping hand when Daniel wants to escape an abusive relationship. It's a classic friends-to-lovers trope, and the story is a cute one of healing and of romance. The running subplot that William faces is with himself, as he struggles to come out and admit that he's bisexual, a problem that I haven't seen many other characters face. Even within the LGBTQ+ community, most literature tends to be about gay, cis-gendered protagonists, where the characters are gender-swapped. Here, William struggles with his feelings for Daniel, and with admitting his own feelings to his friends. In fact, the first person he opens up to is his ex-girlfriend, Lilley, and the two of them are able to patch up and become good friends post-breakup.
The one flaw that I saw in this novel - well, not really flaw, more like personality trait that I found to be annoying - was that William thought about what his friends thought a LOT, but he admitted that his friends were open-minded (his best friend, Peter, is gay), and that none of them would have had an issue if he was bi. Heck, they even text him about it, saying 'we've noticed you're spending a lot of time with Daniel, it's okay if you're bi', yet William is still afraid of voicing those words for the entire novel. I've chalked it up to his own personal fears, rather than worries about what others would think, but it was still mildly frustrating to see him put himself through that when he had such a strong support group around him.
All in all, it was a pretty cute romance novel, one that took age-old tropes and adapted them for an LGBTQ+ audience - something we need more of if we're going to normalize queer tropes in literature. There are way too many romance novels that have the 'there was only one bed in the room' or the 'friends to lovers' tropes, and we need more queer protagonists, because of representation needed in stories. I'd give this a 6/10.
A slow-burn contemporary romance with tangible, idiosyncratic characters and messy, complex relationships that tackles real-world issues and questions the norms we have established around our culture of coming out. It’s a sophisticated and complicated novel with characters that are not always likeable and situations that have an uncomfortable resonance, but speaks to our potential to form relationships that traverse the chasms that split between us.
If you’re looking for an easy, fluffy, feel-good read this is not the book for you. Be aware of the trigger warnings. This is categorized as contemporary romance, but it goes much deeper than a book simply about the development of a romantic relationship. It doesn’t fit into a box as cleanly, which I always find refreshing. If you’re someone who yearns to read books that make you think deeper about our actions and how we form and keep relationships, this is well worth a look.
One of the most interesting perspectives that Willingham brings up in this novel is about the need for those around us to be knowledgeable to the point of intrusiveness about aspects of our lives. There’s an undercurrent of the theme of letting people come to their own understandings and share in their own time, or not at all, which is definitely a stance that I haven’t seen much in modern fiction. I think Willingham is trying to say that in our need to tell others that they can share anything with us, we often imply we need to share everything, which is a very different meaning.
The characters in Not Quite Out are flawed, which I think is what makes them believable. William, our protagonist, is young, naive, anxious, wants to help to a sometimes unhealthy degree, and is still coming to terms that he’s not entirely straight. The relationships he forms are not perfect, and often devolve into disasters that he then has to work through re-building. Sounds a lot like real life, doesn’t it?
(Not Quite Out is a novel with a lot to say, and I was excited to be sent an ARC in exchange for an honest review.)
Trigger Warning: the novel represents things that sometimes happen in the real world and contains scenes of self-harm, drug addiction, domestic abuse, and trauma. This review only makes some mentions of them.
Finding a good slow-burn romance novel isn’t too hard – it’s a pretty common trope that’s used in romance literature. Finding a slow-burn with a bisexual protagonist? That’s a little harder to find. If you’re looking for a great Valentine’s Day read, look no further.
The struggle for young bisexual people to find protagonists that they relate to is real, particularly when most romance novels tend to have straight people as the star. Though there has been a growing body of work with LGBTQ+ characters, these characters still tend to be gay and cis-gendered. The ‘B’ in ‘LGBTQ+’ is sorely lacking in terms of representation, both on and off-screen.
Not Quite Out seems like a standard romance novel, a slow-burn that takes place between two college students at Keele University (the author’s alma mater). William, a 19-year old English medical student, falls in love with Daniel, a 26-year-old Russian poli-sci student who works part-time at the university cafeteria.
I stayed up the very night this was released! So many emotions I felt though the whole thing! It is amazing! Dan's and Will's story resigned so much with me. This is pretty much how that worked for me. It made me feel so connected with Will in those moments and just begging someone to say it for me or understanding me. I wanted to hug Dan so much! This was an amazing read.
Not Quite Out depicts such an unhealthy friendship/relationship/platonic dynamic (and presents it as healthy, acceptable, and admirable), that I could not tear my eyes away from the trainwreck that was Will. The countless red flags flying high from him, from the first page, were honestly astonishing. Will is obsessive, paranoid, stalkery, with an enormous saviour complex, determined to rescue Dan, who he starts lovebombing from the very moment they meet, ceaselessly. It's concerning because Dan is a recovering addict trying to extricate himself from an abusive relationship, and we see through Will's eyes, how he gets entirely ensnared in Will's toxic, overbearing, overprotective coccoon.
Will's behaviour is presented uncritically, all the concerns of his friends and family about his tendencies to ghost and to pour absolutely all of himself into a stranger - his *idea* of a stranger, because there were so many instances where he thinks for Dan, and makes assumptions about Dan - brushed aside. I was hanging on, waiting for the moment when the narrative showed us some growth in Will, some understanding that he could not continue behaving this way while maintaining a healthy, long-term, loving relationship, yet it never came, and that's what made me dislike the book. That Will's behaviour is consistently presented as something to aspire to, not to run away from, as far and fast as you can.
Plenty of reviewers have referred to their own experiences with toxic partners who start off just like Will, determined to make their poor wounded partner's lives revolve utterly around them, bombarding them with intense affection after only a few hours or days of meeting them, only to infantilise them and become something between a critical parent and an idol they must always appease, and so ensnaring them in a web of something that looks like love, but is really just another kind of emotionally abusive relationship. I felt terrible for Dan, whose personality made him vulnerable to someone like Will.
Many reviewers have also spoken about the poor representation of addiction, and the problems with making declarative statements such as 'I'm recovered' after a few weeks, and that being presented in the narrative as realistic. Personally I don't think any reader is obligated to explain in personal terms why they recognised these issues, but I do think it's fair to say a huge amount of heavy topics were included in this book without appropriate exploration. One could argue this relationship is meant to be viewed as unhealthy. The problem lies in the fact that the narrative firmly does not.
As someone who worked with folks in recovery... I was quite shocked at how inaccurate the drug use/addiction/recovery was in this book.
The main character is completely unlikeable... and I'm so over characters that don't get the same sex partner they are interested in and go off and sleep with someone of the opposite sex.
The values in this book are all over the place. William is *proud* that Daniel killed people while he was in the army... yet he constantly berates William for smoking. William uses a woman for sex to make himself feel better... then when he finds out later that she's pregnant he dismisses easily the chance that he may be the father.
This book is kind of a mess and I really hate to say that. It's uncomfortable to read because it's much more of an obsession than a relationship... and even if it were an accurate depiction of someone coming off heroin (which it isn't)... this certainly doesn't depict a healthy relationship in any way.
This book had a great concept with the potential to be a really cute and fun love story. Sadly though the execution fell abysmally short. The writing was lackluster as were the characters who were all pretty unlikeable apart from maybe one or two. One thing that annoyed me the most was how Will (the MC) was constantly offering Dan (the LI and a recovering addict) pain killers. I understand that Will probably didn't know this was a bad thing and that's fine but he was never once corrected or came to realise that offering someone with a drug addiction pain killers is not a good idea. I think that sends a very bad message to readers and honestly makes me think the author didn't know any better either and if that's the case then they really shouldn't be writing a story that focuses on addiction recovery.
TW: Addiction, Abortion, Abuse, Mental Health Issues, PTSD, Self-Harm.
There’s a lot to say about this debut, and I’ve really struggled to corral my thoughts into something resembling logic.
As someone who has issues with anxiety, and a nasty habit of obsessively thinking about anything from what paper to use for an art project to the stranger at the fireworks show that I can’t stop staring at, I could relate to Will in a very definite way. His nervousness and rambling thought patterns meant that I had to take a number of breaks while reading to calm my own thoughts down and add back in that layer of reality around me. I was very easily consumed by the intensity of the narrative.
I also related to Will’s fear of coming out. I identify as queer (gender indifferent) and while I initially stumbled out of the closet at 13, the act of coming out has never gotten easier. It was months before I came out to friends and flatmates at university, months of the words sitting on my tongue and spinning around my head. Even when directly asked if I was gay, I would dodge the question, just as Will does in this novel. And I can understand why, even with the most supportive of friends around, he might feel uncomfortable getting the words off his chest. It’s something I struggle with all the time. In a world of heavy expectation, where everything is seemingly attached to our “permanent record”, it is one thing to claim an identity for yourself, quite another to proclaim it to the world.
I am, of course, aware of the controversy surrounding this book, the issues with its presentation of drug addiction, abuse and abortion. However, while there were things that I think could have been made clearer (for instance the time line of Dan’s recovery, and the fact that his acute symptoms are the result of missing what I assume was a methadone dose, not full acute withdrawal), I found most of the inappropriate things Will says and does to be in line with his character: a 19-year-old, from a reasonably secure privileged background, who’s anxious as all hell and couldn’t say the right thing to save his life. I think that’s represented well in the number of times Will thinks, “I’ve upset him,” “He looks upset.” Will also frequently talks about not knowing what to do in relation to both Dan’s recovery, and Dan’s escape from his abusive ex. There is a clear disconnect in Will’s head; he doesn’t see that an abusive relationship can be just as addictive as heroin. He doesn’t understand that certain things don’t just end, don’t just stop, but are fought against, potentially for a life time. He’s naïve, misinformed and disastrous and he’s telling a story that he doesn’t really understand himself, which leads to problematic statements, nagging and feelings. But in my mind I wasn’t reading a romance, I was reading a book about a relationship and while I wouldn’t say Will is an entirely forgivable/loveable character, I recognised in him something that exists in the real world.
Regarding the abortion sequence: I was not expecting it to be on page, so please be warned if it’s a trigger for you. However, while I was not expecting it, abortion is featured as a trigger warning on the book’s listings and in the front matter. As such, I don’t think it was the author’s intention to use this as “shock factor”, as it was never a secret that abortion happens in the book. To me, the scene felt like an opportunity for Will to shrink his problems down, allowing him to express his feelings for Dan without blowing them out of proportion, and most importantly distracting his friend in the process. I’d liken it to scenes where characters divulge their biggest problem to pass the time with a sick or dying loved-one. Moments like this are hard to think about, but they do happen in real life. Obviously this scene can be triggering, in fact, as someone who is triggered by blood, I found this difficult to read, even though blood is not actually mentioned throughout the sequence. But having checked the trigger warnings, I was comforted to see that this was explicitly mentioned in order to deter those who might be worse affected than me. The same can be said for the books other trigger warnings. It’s always good to see when the difficult subjects contained in a book are flagged clearly to the reader at every available stage.
I could continue to dig into my thoughts on this book all day. As an editor, I could go into all the things I would have developed, altered or cut. As a designer, I could talk about how while the cover is LOVELY, pastel shades probably weren’t the right decision to set reader expectations. However, as a reader, my thoughts are: this wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it. I read it faster than I’ve read anything in months, and it got me thinking about how I approach coming out in a meaningful way. It also reminded me that I’m very happy to be obsessing over paper types, rather than that asshole at the fireworks show.
First of all, this book was a lot lighter than I expected it to be.
Sadly I couldn't really connect with William or Daniel, even though William and I share a bit of that story. But I am pretty sure that I cried less... Maybe this was the reason why I kept the emotional distance, I don't know.
It took me until a third of the way through to really get into this book - the writing is peculiar and it takes a while to warm up to the characters but by the end I was obsessed and in love! I was also on edge the entire time but thoroughly enjoyed the journey thanks to a satisfying ending!
And time also flies when reading Not Quite Out! Seriously, this story is such a slow burner, yet at the same time, it's all too sudden when it ends!
Not Quite Out is the coming-out story I wished I'd read years ago. For me, this was realism. Yes, everyone's coming-out story is vastly different, but I think everyone has this messy period, this no-man's-land era when coming to terms with their sexuality. And Not Quite Out focuses on just that. This story really could help someone who may still be on the fence about coming out.
I loved the romantic build-up in Not Quite Out. Watching Will and Dan's relationship blossom was honestly so lovely!