This is Not a Love Scene
“I liked being ridden, and offered the chance to pretty much every guy in Video II”
With those words, S.C. Meagle introduces us to a spirited, smart heroine – wannabe director Maeve. While she is instantly memorable, the structure of the novel makes her story come off as a bit wooden and artificial, and it contains some problematic and flawed storytelling elements, which ultimately bump the book down a few grades.
Eighteen year old Maeve Leeson and her best friends, Elliot, KC, and Mags, are striving toward adulthood with humor and determination. Salty-mouthed and bursting with life, Maeve is eighteen, planning a future as a director, and ripe to make some kind of physical connection to someone; at her callow age, though, success comes in the form of talking about fuckable movie characters with her friends and her one successful Tinder exchange. She wiles away her time until graduation by writing screenplays (more than eighteen of them by the time she’s sixteen) and participating in Seefeldt High’s film and AV clubs. And she’s tired of being used as people’s inspiration porn; Maeve has a neuromuscular disease, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that’s made her a wheelchair user and given her a service dog named Françoise.
Maeve is boy crazy and comes on strong – which is something that Cole Stone, the prospective actor of her student film, finds very attractive. Their texting turns to sexting, and soon Cole has Maeve blushing, flushing and yearning for much more than his kisses. Her first brush with love has Maeve dazzled – but it might be possible that Cole doesn’t really feel the same way…
This is Not a Love Scene has a heroine who’s stubbornly imperfect, which made her enjoyable. But the plot… ah, the plot, like the retelling of Beauty and the Beast that might secure Maeve’s educational future, feels like it’s shambling along unpleasantly.
Maeve has an incredibly strong personality which may to turn off some readers. She’s self-centered, rude, inflexible and bad at dealing with the feelings of others – all personality traits I understood, because she’s been fighting tooth and nail with a world that’s been infantilizing her since toddlerhood. Yet although I understood, I couldn’t sympathize with her dislike of spending time with or being friends with other disabled people; from her point of view, it’s like suggesting to your gay friend that they’ll love your other gay friend simply because they’re gay. I enjoyed watching her directorial ambitions unfold, but she didn’t seem to traffic in the language of cinema as have other heroines I have read and loved in this genre.
All of her friends are interesting but frustratingly underdeveloped. There’s an almost-love-triangle between Maeve, KC and Cole, but Maeve spends so much time obsessing over Cole that when KC’s depression suddenly takes hold of the plot within the last hundred pages, the reader is caught off guard. That subplot, which winds throughout the book, is mopped up within a few pages of the frustratingly short epilogue.
I’m able-bodied and this is an #ownvoices story, so, judging from a complete outsider’s perspective, everything having to do with Maeve’s muscular dystrophy seems well-thought-out and written, and the author’s insight will open a lot of teenage eyes to the way the world works when you’re struggling with a place that sometimes does not accommodate your body. I had only one real problem with the way it’s handled – the way the author treats Maeve’s service dog, Françoise, who is easily distracted and runs away from Maeve at the smell of food and is generally lazy and non-attentive. This doesn’t match anything I’ve read, witnessed or heard about service dogs and seems to have been inserted simply for the sake of cute dog antics and plot facilitation. There’s only one incident in the entire plot where he has to alert for Maeve’s safety, and I’m not sure – thanks to the way the author set it up – that he actually saved Maeve’s life. Most service dogs I’ve met in real life have been trained to resist the distraction of others and the temptation of food; they do not become service dogs if they cannot.
The book traffics in awkward subplots. There’s one where Maeve keeps hanging out with an elderly dude who offered to buy her an ice cream and struck up a friendship with her and even offers the possibility of a kiss; the novel winks at this information and insists that Maeve knows what she’s doing when she trawls Tinder out of frustrated sexual curiosity, but oh, did it make my skin crawl. And there’s a woman who advocates for a disability charity who all but stalks Maeve and forces her into representing her organization, begging the question as to why no one has called the cops on her by the time she’s taken candid pictures of Maeve and put them on her website without Maeve’s permission.
Also awkward – dollops of unfortunate mocking of asexuality and girl hate that lace the book. And don’t come to This is Not A Love Scene if you’re looking for a love story. It’s a story about first crush, sure, but not a romance that is balanced between two people who love one another. What we’re presented with is painfully one-sided; Cole is disaffected and distant, hunky and tall, telling but not showing Maeve how he feels, seemingly interested in her for emotional games and free sex, and Maeve – lost in first love with this dude – is blinded to his faults and problems. At one point he’s literally about to put his penis inside of her and he tells her he won’t always be there for her, and she readily settles for this so she can experience sex; it felt like she was settling for a soggy two day old tuna sandwich when there was roast beef in the kitchen. This makes it a compelling coming of age story but it flunks as a romance.
This is Not A Love Scene was a frustrating read in places. Its heroine is unforgettable; her story deserved a better ending.