Better Than People (Goodreads) is the charming, cozy, low-angst comfort read I didn’t know I needed. The anxiety rep is startlingly accurate, and Jack’s once-scorned-now-grumpy mood is relatable as heck. It’s kind of a hurt-comfort bring-the-life-back-into-me book for both characters. Simon discovers that, despite what he’s felt, been told, and experienced in his life thus far, he can be loved and fall in love and enjoy a wonderful relationship that becomes his life alongside the anxiety.
Jack is an absolute dream of a man for those of us who have dealt with stifling, terrifying anxiety. The first time they try to talk and Simon can’t make words, Jack immediately hands Simon his phone and suggests typing it out, even though he’s standing right there in front of him. They build a snarky, champagne-bubbly ‘This is fun, I didn’t know I could still have this, can I have more?’ exchanges and become fast friends.
Simon’s grandmother plays a wonderful role in encouraging and supporting Simon through everything he does, including the matchmaking relationship-coaching (with bonus cookie-baking lessons) she offers to both men. Everyone who encounters Simon during their time together is reallly welcoming and understanding and super nice about his shyness. Jack’s brother, Charlie, has my whole heart; I just wanna hug him. He’s going through a lot, and he gives Jack a lot of love. I’m guessing (hoping) the next book in this series is about him.
There are nature walks, fireplace vibes, a whole parade of animals (including a cat who joins the dogs for walks, and a surprise puppy!). There’s a lowkey but magical Christmas Day, complete with a tree shopping experience and the outdoor blowjob that follows.
There is also a side of Simon-is-a-virgin, which adds some electricity. I felt weird about some of Jack’s handling of it… It may be my ingrained ‘This is how it should be in a Romance novel’, but I wanted Jack to be more Simon-focused, making sure he feels special and prioritizing his enjoyment. I just felt that if the story’s gonna play into this trope, Jack should be as dope at this as he is with Simon’s anxiety. But all signs point to Simon having a excellent time, so I guess that’s all there is to it!
Better Than People is the kind of book you’ll want to hold close and read much like the life that Simon and Jack share in the story: while curled up on the couch with the fire flickering and your dogs close by. And if you’ve read The Remaking of Corbin Wale (I have not. I neeeed to!) I’m sure you’ll be delighted to see that there’s a very special heartfelt Corbin Wale cameo.
Content Warnings: Grief (Jack’s parents died suddenly when he was a kid. Simon’s grandfather died six months ago, and he lives with his grandmother who is grieving the loss of her husband.), deceased parents, estranged parents, Simon mentions / flashbacks to incidents when he was treated unfairly/cruelly/discriminated against because of his anxiety.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review on Love in Panels.