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Cleat Cute


by Meryl Wilsner

Our first review of a repeat author! Last summer, I reviewed Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner, and now we’re back with another work by the queen of sapphic novels. In her newest romance novel (thanks again to Netgalley!), Wilsner manages to make even the most bookish of queer nerds interested in – gasp – a sports book. Two members of a professional soccer team – one the captain, established in her career but not out to her fans, and the other an excitable new recruit, sort out their feelings for each other and the game.

Interestingly, there is some vague mental health representation in this book, alluding to autism and ADHD. It is not nearly as clear or celebratory as, for example, the works of Helen Hoang – there is a level of outrage at being “accused” of having a diagnosis that doesn’t jive with the destigmatized world I thought we had reached on these things. It was only a minor plot point, but worth mentioning.

When I reviewed her last book, I applauded Wilsner for writing characters who were already out of the closet and had love lives complicated by other, more interesting drama. In Cleat Cute, Wilsner veers dangerously close to losing that praise. One of the main characters is out to her family but not her fans and considers this when making relationship decisions. Usually, I hate reading coming out of the closet narratives, because they don’t match my experience (shout out to my super inclusive family) and seem to make the entire queer experience about coming out. This is not that other people don’t have more fraught coming outs, just that it isn’t the singular experience that defines queer identities. Many of us have a lot of living and loving to do after the coming out process is well over. Wilsner gets a bit of a pass, however, for complicating the issue by questioning how a minor celebrity may feel about coming out to her fans.

I had assumed this was an easy choice in 2023 – lots of young people identify as queer and support their queer favs, and the stigma and hate against queer people had abated. Why wouldn’t a celebrity come out to her public? However, in the time between reading this book and actually sitting down to write the review, things have changed. At the time of this writing, there have been 533 bills anti-trans bills introduced into legislation in 2023, in 49 states (thank god for Delaware). So far, 54 have passed and 382 are still active (stats from https://translegislation.com/). These bills range from banning transgender athletes from playing for the teams they identify with, to policing bathroom access, to limiting what teachers can say and how much dignity they can provide their trans students, to removing access to life-saving medical care. It is quickly becoming very scary to be out as queer in this country.


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