Book Review: One Last Stop Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
The author of Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston, unveils her second novel
Reviewed by Rosalind Faires, Fri., June 4, 2021
Not that it's by any means the most important thing about it, but One Last Stop is incredible New York City propaganda. Casey McQuiston's second novel, which charts the love story of a closed-off recent Louisiana transplant and a butch punk heartthrob who is trapped on a subway line, has such warmth spilling out of it that suddenly everything you've dismissed as cliche about the city feels new and earned. Maybe public transportation is a venue for meet-cutes and little moments of kindness. Maybe the kitchen smells that cling to your clothes after your waitressing shift are a perfume. Maybe it is a helluva town.
Our protagonist, August Landry, doesn't start out with that sunny of an outlook. The aforementioned New Orleans native is trying to escape the missing persons case that dominated her childhood, finally finish her undergraduate degree, and find a city that will confirm her pessimism about trust and vulnerability. That she lands an apartment above a Popeyes that comes pre-furnished with a fascinating, funny queer family might be dismissed as dumb luck. That she meets the girl of her dreams – generous, tough, incorrigibly dimpled Jane Su – on the Q line she takes to and from school feels like New York trying to tell her something.
If that was it – girl moves to big city, klutzes her way into someone's heart, and learns to love again – One Last Stop would be a delight. But it's the magical wrinkle in this romance – the fact that Jane has been displaced in time from the 1970s and, oh, also can't leave the Q train lest she go full ghost – that makes the whole thing extraordinary. Jane and August move through the world very differently, even before you take into account their different native time periods, but they're both young women reckoning with profound loss and longing, presented with same proposition: Do you do the hard thing (choose to remember your past, look a little stupid, make yourself say how you feel for real, out loud) when all it might get you is heartbreak?
With a main household containing a reformed girl detective/diner waitress, an electrical engineer/visual artist, a genuine psychic/terrible bartender, and a disowned rich kid/tattoo artist (not to mention the protester/rambler/horny legend love interest), this is a book with one of the most captivating, hot, weird, and wonderful casts in recent memory. (You'll be sending your friends a lot of screenshots of particular lines followed by an all-caps "WIFE" or "HUSBAND." Make peace with this.) Like its predecessor, Red, White & Royal Blue, One Last Stop wears its heart – by which I mean its deep investment in honoring both the joys and struggles of LGBTQIA history – on its sleeve. McQuiston's ear for banter and sense of pacing are as keen as ever, and you'll find yourself surprised into both laughter and tears as the novel alternates between whirlwinds and moments you get to luxuriate in.
Overwhelmingly, it's the slow burn discoveries and the risks we see the characters become brave enough to take that make One Last Stop such a moving and transportative read. McQuiston manages to capture both the electricity of a crush – the tentatively flirty jokes, the leaning into body space, the way your friends can maddeningly read your face whenever you've been around the object of your affections – and the moment when, all of a sudden, the daydream you're infatuated with becomes a real, whole, complicated human being that you'd do almost anything for. She pins down the moments when suddenly a house doesn't feel like a pit stop anymore, when the worries in your head that your friends don't really want to hang out with you die down a little, when you realize you made something really wonderful happen for somebody else because you know them so well.
It's a very particular feeling to be in a room where joy and community and good humor are all palpable. How remarkable then, that One Last Stop takes you to so many such spaces – apartments, drag bars, diners, and so many subway cars, tunnels and bridges – and lets the reader bask in the love that lives, is remembered, and is cultivated there.
One Last Stopby Casey McQuiston
St. Martin's Griffin, 432 pp., $16.99
Casey McQuiston will speak about One Last Stop with author Abby Jimenez in a BookPeople virtual event Monday, June 7, 6pm. For more info, visit bookpeople.com.