“If I am who you want me to be,” Shelley said, “I can’t be who I am. It’s killing me.”
The Politics of Love is a new, opposites attract lesbian romance novel by Jen Jensen, out today (July 14th) from Bold Strokes Books. It follows two characters – Shelley Whitmore, a closeted lesbian who is sick of hiding who she is for the benefit of her powerful Evangelical Christian Republican family, and Rand Thomas, a therapist and prominent transgender rights activist – who first meet by way of a television appearance wherein they’re placed on opposite sides of a political debate.
The romance between Shelley and Rand seemed at first like it would be fast moving, but then settled into a leisurely slow-ish burn pace for the majority of the novel. At times, the romance felt like an addendum to the larger, overarching themes of the book, but I didn’t mind that at all. I can appreciate when romance novels aim to be something “more”, and The Politics of Love does just that. I found both of the leads likable in their own way, for completely different reasons. There were absolutely a few times when I wanted to take Rand by her shoulders and shake her, but the angst felt logical, rather than unnecessarily inserted by the author to spice up the plot.
To be totally honest, after I was approved for an ARC of The Politics of Love, I began to panic. “Why didn’t I just wait and read this on my own?” I groaned to my friend via Messenger. “Politics are so divisive right now, and this book has the potential to be a PR minefield!”
“You’re overthinking,” she replied. “Just read the book.” So I did. And I loved it, and now that it’s over, I realized the irony of the entire situation. My anxiety about reading a romance that crosses the political divide in our hyper-polarized society because of our hyper-polarized society is, in fact, peak irony.
I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that I myself am a Democratic Socialist, but, like Shelley, I was born and raised in the Bible Belt, and have lived here for my entire life. My mother is a Baptist Sunday school teacher. I grew up going to church multiple times per week, hearing myself damned to hell by our fire and brimstone Southern Baptist preacher. I knew I was a lesbian from fourteen on, and cried myself to sleep each night, praying to at least be bisexual instead of a lesbian, so that I’d have a chance of falling in love with a man and making my family happy.
So, unlike some other reviewers, I went into The Politics of Love fully expecting to identify with Shelley, the closeted gay Republican, at least on a base level, and I was not disappointed. At some points, I related to her inner dialogue so much that I was practically highlighting entire pages. I would be remiss not to mention that The Politics of Love also includes really excellent anxiety representation. In addition to identifying with Shelley’s experiences with compulsive heterosexuality and repressing her sexuality for her family, the way Jensen wrote Shelley’s anxiety really rang true for me, as someone with multiple anxiety disorders.
In the end, I think a lot of my worry about this book was unfounded. After seeing a lot of negative commentary accusing the YA M/M romance The State of Us of trying to humanize the Right without expecting them to humanize the LGBTQ+ community (and that’s not even touching the issues with the racism), I feared The Politics of Love might fall prey to the same mishaps, reworked for an adult audience, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was obvious that Rand and Shelley respected and learned from each other, genuinely finding middle ground on which to build their relationship.
Final thoughts: The word politics might be in the title, but The Politics of Love was far from a manifesto or evangelism for either side of the aisle. Instead, it was a sweet, slightly angsty romance about finding love and acceptance in unexpected places.
Is it possible to love across the political divide?
Shelley Whitmore is a successful attorney, working on behalf of her Evangelical parents’ faith-based organization, championing conservative values of individual liberty and limited government. Everything’s totally fine, except that it really isn’t. Shelley manages depression and crippling anxiety because of the secret she can never reveal: she’s gay.
Rand Thomas is a psychotherapist, transgender rights activist, and political liberal. Widowed and struggling with her wife’s toxic parents, Rand isn’t going to allow herself to love again.
When Shelley and Rand meet in Manhattan, neither one expects to find that the other is exactly who they need.
The Politics of Love At A Glance
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Themes/Tropes: Opposites Attract, Age Gap (< 10 years), Coming Out, Slow burn
LGBT Rep? Yes!
Content Warnings (CWs): Non-consensual public outing, homophobia, death of family member, grief
ARC Note: Thank you to Bold Strokes Books and Netgalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.