Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (3)
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston is romance meet science-fiction, revolving around two young women who meet on the New York subway, soon after our protagonist, August, moves to the city. She winds up in New York City because she's searching for a place that feels the same as she does on the inside. She's drawn to the cold detachment of NYC's reputation, but she winds up amongst a group who might've been outsiders anywhere else, but who are welcomed with open arms into the community they've made in the city.
On August's first day of college, she winds up on the Metro covered in coffee, unable to change in time for class, and completely dumbfounded by the woman who offers her a scarf to cover the stain.
Jane is a total dream: a punk riot girl in a leather jacket, silky dark hair, and a cheeky grin. August is obsessed with the woman she sees on the train, and the two of them keep colliding on August's daily commute.
The more time Jane and August spend together, the more August begins to realize there are gaps in Jane's history. She won't tell her where she lives or where she's going on the train... and the more August delves and shares about herself, the more Jane realizes something is very wrong. August was born in the 1990s... but last Jane remembers it was 1972...
Jane and August discover that Jane is stuck on the Metro... unable to step foot off the line without disappearing and reappearing right back on one of the train cars. But neither of them understand why or how, and Jane can't remember more than what August dredges up in her.
The more August learns about Jane's history, works to crack the case, the more she falls for the woman stuck on the Metro. August pulls more memories from Jane's subconscious, trying to hold back her own feelings as Jane shares story after story about girls from her past - all her travels and adventures littered with flings and one-night-stands.
One Last Stop is a mildly science-fiction, and prior to actually delving into the novel, I wasn't sure if girl-from-past-stuck-on-train was something I'd enjoy. But the relationship between and the characterization of August and Jane is so good; they really drive the book.
I really chalk the success of the book up to Casey McQuiston's writing. She has a way of making all her characters so charming in their individual ways. Each of them has a story, and they're weaved together seamlessly. Because each character has a desire and a conflict (whether current or past), the book is really dynamic. We're working through the lives of multiple characters at once, and McQuiston really makes you root for each and every one of them.
This book is literal found-family. In August's case, I'd call it reluctant found-family. I found I related to her the most, even outside of the science-fiction elements. At her core, August is one giant coping mechanism, working to remain detached from the people and places around her. She recognizes when he choices both help and hurt her maintain that goal, and she's hard on herself in realistic ways.
What I like about August is that life isn't easy on her... and the way she's grown up reflects that. Her entire thought-process has been shaped by her childhood and the things she's trying to overcome, and despite the unrealistic elements (AKA Jane stuck on a never-ending train for 40 years), August is very real and relatable. That's hard to do.
I also really love novels that incorporate the setting as another character, and New York City is personified so well in this book. August moves there because the city isn't normally romanticized in real life, and maybe she's looking to lose herself in some black-hole. I think there's some hope that the loneliness of the city might sink in around her might give her the anonymity she's longing for, but she slots into a community that exists beside the stoicism of New York City. The novel showcases these microcosms within the bigger setting, and the characters really shine.
One of my only critiques is that the book was slow to start and you had to really keep get to know the characters before it kept your attention. Additionally, the ending just sort of tapered off... it was done to showcase the characters' emotions - make it more realistic - once the final ending hit, but it turned a really good book sort of lackluster by introducing more plot points that we never get to see realized. I think it would've been stronger to have a stricter ending rather than trail off. The characters and setting of this book were done really well in the middle of the book, but the beginning and the end could've used more attention.
Overall, it's worth the read! It's a cute selection for Pride Month! The ensemble cast is filled with LGBT characters who are all so realized and realistic that you can almost get past the pacing blunders.