This book had me laughing by the end of the first page. It’s not a comedy but the relationship between Kieran and Pen includes hilarious moments.
The decision to date again hasn’t come easily to Kieran, after a couple of years of protecting herself following two painful break-ups. But she’s ready. And who better than her best friend Pen to help her set up a profile on a dating app? No one knows her better, no one understands her better. And Pen is always there for her after each bad date. In fact, those after-date moments with Pen become Kieran’s favourite part of the whole dating thing. If Kieran is looking for a relationship, Pen, on the other hand, is more into hookups and fuck buddies. She’s however always ready to ditch any of them when Kieran needs her.
When I read a book set in the world we live in (ie, not sci-fi, or fantasy…), I want to be able to trust that what the author writes about is real. If the author has no personal experience with the topic they choose to write about, I want to be able to believe they did their research or had sensitivity readers or both, depending on the topic. That allows me to relax entirely into the book and let my feelings take over. In this book, it meant learning about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition Pen lives with and which explains a lot about why she acts the way she does. I liked the way Tagan Shepard wrote it in the story, the way it affects Pen and her relationships, especially with Kieran.
The story is told from Kieran’s point of view, and when the reader first meets her, she’s not at her best, which makes it a bit hard to like her at the beginning. As the story unfolds, she gets more and more relatable. Pen, by contrast, is immediately likeable as we see her through Kieran’s eyes. She’s strong, she’s kind, she’s sexy.
There are a few very moving scenes between the two friends but one of the most poignant doesn’t involve Pen, at least not directly: Kieran’s coming-out as pansexual to her then-husband is sad and real and empowering at once. Beyond that scene, I liked the pansexual representation a lot, as well as the diversity of potential partners Kieran meets. Even if most of the dates went wrong, the people’s identity was never the reason why it did.
One of the things I love best with the friends to lovers trope is that authors have to make me believe that friendly touches are really chemistry filtering between the characters unbeknownst to them, or at least to one of them. For the major part of this book, Kieran marvels at Pen’s soft skin, relaxes in her arms after a bad date, can’t get a comforting kiss on her forehead out of her mind. Then when she realises the reason she feels so good with Pen isn’t friendship at all but love, she revisits all these tiny moments which, in hindsight, tell the whole story. Shepard writes these really well. As the reader, we know what is going on even if the character doesn’t, and the line between plausible and eye-roll-worthy is thin. Shepard stays on the right side of the line. The culmination comes in several steps, a first kiss that is at once tender and hungry, a first time and another first time, each hotter than the one before.
The pace is okay for most of the book but there’s a slump in the middle. Keep reading, the characters are worth it. And don’t read the official blurb, it gives away too much.
Also, it’s not a huge flaw but it surprised me: in one scene, Kieran gets all snobby about sloppy penmanship, which feels completely out of character. Not only does she come across as a kind person, but she’s also very aware of hidden disabilities, thanks to being friends with Pen, so how come it doesn’t cross her mind that bad penmanship could be something other than distraction? She should see the way I write…
There are also a few very well-written secondary characters which, even if they don’t play a big part, add a lot to the story. I loved Kieran’s colleague Arthur, Abby the bartender/artist, Ashley, and even Pen’s father, despite his very short appearance.
Tagan Shepard writes sweet stories with deeper meaning cleverly hidden beyond the romance. Swipe Right is another enjoyable and satisfying read.