Book Review

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

CW/TW: reference to a historical hate crime against LGBTQ people

One Last Stop is the tale of August, a young woman who has recently moved to New York City, and Jane, the mysterious woman that August meets on the subway. When August moves to New York, she intends to do what she’s done her whole life, namely, keep to herself. However, her apartment roommates and neighbors are clearly not going to stand for that.

Meanwhile, August is desperately and instantly smitten with Jane, but there’s a teensy problem. Jane boarded the subway sometime in the 1970s and hasn’t been able to age or leave the train since then. It will take all of August’s resources, brain power, and newly found family to help Jane get unstuck.

Honestly Tara and I (Carrie) weren’t sure if we would love this book or hate it but we fell heavily into the ‘love’ camp.

Tara: I truly wasn’t prepared for how much I loved this book. In part, that’s because it came at exactly the right time, so it felt like a gift specifically for me. I’ve been reading up on the history of the early punk movement, so I was VERY interested in everything Jane had to say about her life and the time she’s from. Also, this book has that ineffable something that hooked me right from the beginning and kept me interested all the way through. It’s taken me days to sit with it and unpack my feelings, and I’m finally ready to talk to you about it!

Carrie: I loved the romance, the mystery, and the contrasts between being LGBTQIA today versus in the 1970s, but what really sucked me in was the found family aspect, which is aways my catnip and which I think has also been a crucial element of survival for marginalized people in the past and remains one today. I was afraid I would find August’s roomies to be too twee but, my lord, I just adored all of them, not to mention her unrealistically forgiving employers and co-workers (August gets a job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes and almost immediately starts missing a lot of shifts, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t fly in real life).

Tara: Yes, I loved how August’s roommates decided they were going to make her part of their queerdo family. In fact, the first thing I highlighted, because I loved it so much, was the response August gets when she explains why she didn’t have the best childhood or relationship with her mom.

“Anyway,” Myla says, turning to open the freezer. “That sucks. I’m your mom now. The rules are, no Tarantino movies and bedtime is never.”

So many of the funniest parts of the book are exchanges between August and her roommates. For example, I cracked up when a hungover August moans “I wish I were never born,” and Wes responds only with “Retweet.” Or when August confides her pining for Jane to Myla, and they have this exchange:

“Maybe you’re meant to be. Love at first sight. It happened to me.”

“I don’t accept that as a hypothesis.”

“That’s because you’re a Virgo.”

“I thought you said virginity was a construct.”

“A Virgo, you fucking Virgo nightmare. All this, and you still don’t believe in things. Typical Virgo bullshit.”

August’s friends show up for her in a big way, whether it’s helping her find a job, moving furniture for her, or cracking the mystery of why Jane is stuck on the subway so they can get her unstuck.

I also appreciated that while August doesn’t become as close with her coworkers as she does her roommates, they’re part of her found family too. They’re just more like extended family rather than immediate, which I don’t recall often seeing in fiction. The overall sense of community is so vibrant, it makes me want to be a part of it.

Carrie: As a subset of the found family thing, this book has the most amazing parties and I felt like I had been to those parties even though I haven’t ever been to one like that and wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I had. The parties in this book are magic dream parties full of acceptance, exuberance, and joy and I love them.

Tara: I’m so party averse, I don’t know that I could have lasted longer than half an hour, but there was definitely something magical about them.

Carrie: They are such accepting people we could have an Introvert Closet with beanbags and books and they would slide pancakes under the door for us.

Tara: Someone make me an Introvert Closet stat!

As someone who inhaled the entire RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise last year, I was also excited to see drag culture represented in the story. The tenant across the hall from August and her crew is a notable New York drag queen who goes by the name Annie Depressant, and we often see her and her fellow queens at parties and performances. Also, at one point, August recollects a conversation with Jane about how Jane used to go to drag shows and drag balls in the ‘70s. That moment struck me as an excellent reminder that while RPDR popularized drag and brought it into mainstream consciousness, it certainly didn’t create it because drag has been around for decades. (Side note: if you want to learn more about the drag ball culture in the late 1960s in New York, check out a documentary on Netflix called The Queen. I highly recommend it.)

One pro-tip for reading One Last Stop: have snacks handy. Hearing about food in the pancake house made me want pancakes a lot of the time. Did I end up making pancakes? Yes. Do I feel good about that choice? Also yes.

Carrie: Incidentally I would also LOVE to eat a Su Special, which is a fried egg, bacon, maple syrup, and hot sauce sandwiched between two pieces of Texas toast.

Tara: This is a solvable problem! Be the hero you want to see in the world and make the sandwich, Carrie!

Some of you might be wondering, “Okay, but how good is the romance, anyway?” If you’d told me I’d get real big feelings about a romance that develops entirely on the subway, I would have been skeptical, but I really, really loved it. August’s pining that I mentioned above is palpable and even when they’re a couple, there’s still tension because of the question of whether August and her pals can save Jane from the subway. Jane and August are my couple of 2021 because I love them both so much. Please invite me to the wedding.

Because the story is told solely from August’s perspective, we only see her internal narrative as she falls for Jane. I didn’t mind, however, because Jane is so good at expressing herself. One scene in particular stands out.

Show Spoiler

After knowing each other for a while, Jane blows up because she wants to know what they’re doing. Are they dating or not? Jane’s frustration and vulnerability in this moment are perfectly balanced, leaving me breathless.

Part of me wishes we could have seen a bit more into Jane’s interior, but I also respect the choice not to show it, because One Last Stop is the story of how August finds family, love, and a relationship with the city. Getting Jane unstuck is a factor in that, but it’s not the main point of the overall story.

Carrie: I agree that this is much more the story of August finding a home, a family, and a sense of purpose than it is a romance novel with romance being the center focus. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to August’s fear of finally graduating from college and feeling as though all she knows how to do is either live out the expectations of her mother, or be a student forever.

Having said that, I loved the slow burn of this romance, and although “can’t spit it out” romances have often bugged me, in this book it made sense for Jane and August to be reluctant to share their feelings—both because this fits their characters and because this fits their predicament.

I also enjoyed how the process of restoring Jane’s memory highlights the sensory nature of memory—how a taste or touch or smell can bring an entire scene flooding back into the mind. It’s a sensual book in that sense (ha, see what I did there). The sex is sexy, but the entire book, even the sad and frustrating parts, involve a celebration of the senses and of life in general.

Tara: I wouldn’t normally bring up something from the acknowledgements of a book, but I want to share this line, because it’s a perfect summary of what I love best about One Last Stop: “I love this story because it’s an Unbury Your Gays story.” I got a little teary when I read that line, because I realized how unique that idea is and I didn’t know how much I needed it. Too many stories centre queer pain, regardless of the medium. That’s why I gravitate towards f/f and f/nb romance, so I don’t have to read about queer women dying or getting punished for who they love, like they do pretty much everywhere else in fiction, film, and TV. Everyone who knew Jane Su thought she was gone, one of the many queer people who died for who-knows-what reason in the late 1970’s. Because this is a romance, she gets her happy ending, and in a way that makes perfect sense for her and August.

Carrie: I was also deeply moved by the fate of August’s missing uncle. I thought this was handled in such a beautiful and healing manner. The book mentions a particularly tragic event which you MUST NOT GOOGLE (articles often contain graphic images and details). I learned about this event a long time ago and have been haunted by it ever since. The fate of the missing uncle goes a long way towards healing that wound.

Tara: I cannot recommend One Last Stop enough. It’s funny, it’s sexy, and it gives me all the feels. Plus, it’s an important book, because it reminds me of how far things have come for queer people thanks to the protests, organizing, and all the other work that people like Jane have done for us for decades. This has gone straight to my to-reread pile and it’s an absolute Squee for me. In the meantime, I’m going to be listening to the playlist I made with some music I imagine Jane listening to at Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, or on vinyl.

Carrie: So much this! The book is fun, sexy, serious and comical, and deeply intersectional. Thank you for reading this with me, Tara, it was a delight!

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One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

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  1. Stacey says:

    When I clicked on this review I was like… this better be a Squee! I feel much the same about this book as you guys – it became a comfort read immediately and I even did the thing where I went and read something else 2/3 of the way through because I wasn’t ready for it to end.
    I loved so many things about it, but as someone who used to call and annoy DJs into playing things for me, the radio song requests especially hit home.

  2. kkw says:

    I liked this book. There were a lot of fun things about it, and in theory it was everything I wanted, but I didn’t love it.
    Probably this comes down to suspension of disbelief issues, given how often I ride the Q train. It’s not a good place to have sex. It just absolutely is not. No. Hard no.
    There was something, just a little and again maybe only me, but there was something slightly exploitative in how much support the supporting characters had to provide. Like, the cis white straight passing woman POV character is the only one who gets a voice. Everyone else is there to prop her up and entertain her, provide her with mystery, telegraph exoticism…. It wasn’t egregious at all. It might not even really be there, and it’s just me. I am crazy prickly.
    But while I did ultimately like this book, and would definitely recommend it (especially to people without public transportation), I want to throw out a warning that it didn’t feel like found family. It felt like tourism.

  3. izquierda says:

    I adored this book and was excited to learn that the author makes playlists for all of their main characters, which just adds to the sensory experience and making them feel real! Their Spotify name is McQuizzy.

  4. Kareni says:

    I read this and quite enjoyed it. Thanks for the joint squee, Tara and Carrie!

  5. Jazzlet says:

    That is a fine playlist.

  6. Lisa F says:

    On my TBR pile; what a fun playlist; will read this soon!

  7. Jennifer says:

    @kkw do you listen to the Whoa!nance podcast? They recently covered this book and had a lot of the same issues you mentioned.
    It was a good episode.

  8. Meg says:

    I know I’ll catch heat for this, but I did not love this book and ended up skimming much of it. (And for the record, I ADORED Red, White & Royal Blue). I found it very slow going from the get-go but caught on to the contrivance fairly quickly. I was also irked by parallels to a relatively unknown book, Subway Love, written by Nora Raleigh Baskin and published in 2014. That one was not an LGBTQ story, and all of the story nuances are different, but the overall premise is strikingly similar (and why I thought I knew what was going on so early in One Last Stop). But if we all had identical taste, there’d be no need for menus in restaurants, right?

  9. Suleikha Snyder says:

    As a former Q train person, I have to say it’s an AWFUL place to hook up. Can you imagine being on the Manhattan Bridge with the kids going “It’s showtime!” while you’re trying to make out in the corner? No thank you! I’m sure it’s happened, but the very idea of having sex in those yellow and orange seats is making me shudder.

  10. Ms. M says:

    I am also a former Q train person! I don’t think anything MTA related is sexy, but the cars on the Q train tend to be newer and cleaner overall– maybe that inspired them? (yuck)

  11. Lolagranola says:

    In the middle of this book and just pressed playbok a playlist based on the songs. So fun.

  12. Louise says:

    All together now:

    Did she ever return
    No she never returned
    Her fate is still unlearned
    She will ride forever …

    … and so on.

  13. Rowan says:

    Very glad to see a squee for this. Instantly became my new favourite romance novel when I read it, and it’s up there overall too.

  14. Emily C says:

    This is sitting on my nightstand for just the right time for transporting read (which is looking to be this weekend considering the dumpster fire that is government in Florida right now), so I’m so happy to read a Squee review of it!
    And also, happy to again read thoughtful, considerate and respectful comments from readers here at the Bitchery. We don’t all have to agree on every book and the variety of what works-for-me-might-not-work-for-you is why I keep coming back to this site! It also makes me a much more well rounded reader and I like to think I’ve learned to consider different viewpoints more often because of the comments and reviews here.

  15. HeatherS says:

    I started this one and I think I made it about halfway through, then put it down. (In comparison, I devoured RWRB (slowly) over about 4 days because I didn’t want it to end and I carried it around with me at work for weeks.)

    OLS does make me hungry with all the breakfast food talk, and I was enjoying it, but I can understand where folks who’ve read the whole thing are coming from in terms of not being quite satisfied with it – it does feel like the other characters exist to prop August up. I mean, yeah, what job is going to keep you on the payroll when you call out more shifts than you’ve worked from practically day one?

    I think I might need to restart it and be more thoughtful in my reading.

    My only experience with train travel was during a short stay in Chicago about a decade ago – we took the train from the depot a mile or so from the hotel into downtown and went to the Navy Pier. I honestly wish I lived somewhere with public transport like that; my city has a bus system, and transit time is variable due to traffic. Like most cities outside of the northeast, public transit seems to have been a transportation infrastructure afterthought. I do like that I can ride the bus from a stop near my apartment to the downtown library, though. 🙂

  16. marjorie says:

    So funny, I loved this one and I was meh on RWRB. (I liked it, but felt it was too long by at least a third; it made me yearn for the days of EDITING.) Whereas w/OLS, I found the shambolic, relaxed-pacing loosy-goosiness charming…maybe b/c this one was set among NYC independent artsy folx, rather than a prince and a politician’s kid who should have logically been more buttoned-down and tightly scheduled? I agree about the ickiness about getting down and dirty on the Q train, but c’mon, RWRB required a ton of suspension of disbelief too, and here at least the magic and impossibility were part of the plot! I was charmed by the circle of friends, found so many lines laugh-out-loud funny, thought the chemistry and romance were genuinely hot, and absolutely adored everything set in the pancake diner — I was a wee writer in NYC in the ’90s and it felt like my world! (I mean, if the pancake place had been Florent in the meatpacking district.) Not sure what it means that this was the second novel I read during the pandemic that involved the difficulty of being a queer girl in a traditional Chinese family in San Francisco. Anyway, I do see how mileage may vary on this one — as my dad used to say, that’s what makes horse races.

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