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Exploring Representation in LGBTQ Romance: A Review of Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

Exploring Representation in LGBTQ Romance: A Review of Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

This Swoon-Worthy Sapphic Sports Romance Scores Big With Its Charmingly Quirky Characters and Instant Chemistry

As an avid LGBTQ romance devotee, I experienced pure bookish rapture from the opening chapters of Meryl Wilsner's absolutely delightful "Cleat Cute." This playful, swoon-worthy tale of two professional soccer players falling for each other despite their wildly contrasting personalities hits all the right notes - it's insanely cute, warmly inclusive, and an utterly unputdownable romantic romp from start to finish.

From the moment I met our two leading ladies - the bubbly, infectiously charismatic newcomer Phoebe and her surly, closed-off idol Grace - I knew I was in for a rare treat of a love story. Wilsner has such a deft hand for crafting magnetic romantic pairings whose electric chemistry simply crackles off the page. I didn't just become invested in whether they'd end up together, I was actively rooting for them as if they were my dearest friends finally finding happiness.

Part of what makes Phoebe and Grace's courtship so irresistible is how vividly realized their contrasts are rendered. Phoebe is a human golden retriever puppy - overflowing with sunshine and effervescence, yet grounded by her middle-class background and relatably awkward, self-deprecating charm. Meanwhile, Grace is the archetypal brooding jock, all prickly defensiveness masking wounds from her youth and lifelong sacrifices in pursuit of soccer greatness. Getting a window into how they each see the world, and how their clashing contexts inform their misconceptions about love, identity, and self-worth, makes their gravitational pull toward one another feel fated in the most delicious way.

Watching their escalating "friends-with-benefits" tango build inexorably toward deeper intimacy and emotional vulnerability had me utterly enthralled. Wilsner excels at cultivating the simmering, exquisite romantic and sexual tension as Phoebe's radiant presence slowly chips away at Grace's defensive walls. Their dry banter and awkward flirting antics brought me so much joy, while the more poignantly rendered moments where their respective emotional wounds came into play grounded the swoons in palpable humanity.

As their relationship leveled up from casual hookups to tentative, tender courtship, I was utterly mesmerized by the honesty and care Wilsner imbues into the moments shared between them. Whether it's Phoebe joyfully helping Grace discover her authentic identity as an out lesbian or Grace engaging Phoebe's ADHD quirks with loving patience and unconditional support, it's impossible not to get misty-eyed witnessing two souls become such Perfect Fits for each other in spite of their differences.

And on top of the exquisitely rendered romance, Wilsner imbues the surrounding world of women's professional soccer with such vivid, immersive detail. I have zero prior knowledge or investment in sports, yet the minutiae of life as a pro athlete - the team camaraderie, the relentless practice regimens and team-building exercises, the bonding over wrestling with gender dynamics in a male-driven industry - utterly captivated me. I not only left this book feeling starry-eyed about Phoebe and Grace, but like I had absorbed a vicarious behind-the-scenes crash course in the intricate, adrenaline-fueled domain of top-tier sports.

Speaking of the supporting characters, I'd be remiss not to praise the wonderfully inclusive ensemble Wilsner constructs surrounding our leads. From trans side characters getting normalized casual rep to the core team being an effortlessly sapphic-space of fluid sexualities,LGBTQIA identity markers are reflected everywhere in refreshingly organic ways.Moments like Phoebe's unflinching acceptance of her brother's transness or the casual acknowledgement of a genderqueer teammate's affirming top surgery become beautiful grace notes in a narrative steeped in intersectional queerness as a radical form of community care.

Even better, these facets are never sanitized or made palatable for straight audiences - this is a book that centers queerness front and center without caveats or comprisal, radical in the most joyfully authentic sense. When set against the backdrop of the arch-conservative world of professional sports, the sapphic reclamation and queer community depicted here becomes a profoundly nourishing celebration of LGBTQIA visibility and self-love.

Yet amidst the relatable representation and lush NOLA-set atmospherics, the heart of "Cleat Cute's" magic remains its astounding emotional resonance. I was utterly stunned by how cohesively Wilsner interwove threads about grappling with expectations, nurturing self-esteem amidst confrontations with privilege and power structures, coming into oneself as a queer adult even after lifelong acceptance and affirmation. These powerful thematic undercurrents never overwhelm the fizzy romantic momentum, yet they provide richness and specificity to Phoebe and Grace's shared journeys that elevated their happy ending to hard-won catharsis.

In particular, I was deeply moved by Phoebe's struggles with undiagnosed neurodivergence and her journey toward self-awareness and reclaiming her power as a woman in sports constantly undermined by society. And Grace's reckoning with decades of repressing her identity out of fear it would derail her career aspirations resonated in profound ways I'm still unpacking. As they guide each other toward self-actualization, the novel transforms into an inspirational meditation on choosing self-love, community care, and radical authenticity in the face of patriarchal and societal pressures.

Simply put, "Cleat Cute" contains multitudes - it's a disarmingly sweet sapphic rom-com populated by characters you'll wish were your best friends, an enthralling inside look at the pressures and joys of female pro athletes, and a tenderly rendered love letter to the self-empowerment of discovering your truth as a queer adult all rolled into one exuberant package. From the first adorable meet-cute to the cathartic final chapters where Phoebe and Grace come fully into their authentic partnership, I was utterly mesmerized by the giddy rush of witnessing two lovable souls not just find each other, but discover their bravest, most radically self-assured versions of themselves in the process.

As an avowed LGBTQIA romance devotee, novels like this are precisely why I spend so much time championing queer literature and seeking out #OwnVoices stories where I can see the myriad experiences of my community represented with such empathy and authenticity. To experience a queer happily-ever-after unfolding with this level of nuance and gleeful celebration is nothing short of seeing myself reflected in a way I so often haven't in mainstream publishing. It's life-giving, in the most nourishing sense.

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So I cannot recommend "Cleat Cute" emphatically enough - whether you're a fellow LGBTQIA reader ravenous for adorable, immersive sapphic rom-coms or simply a lover of great romance novels in general, this is truly a novel for the ages in how achingly perfect the central love story unfolds. The breathtaking tenderness with which Phoebe and Grace's arcs interweave, the radically joyful exploration of queerness as a source of empowerment and community care, the swoon-worthy romantic moments rendered with such dizzying all adds up to an endlessly re-readable masterclass in heartwarming happily-ever-afters I'll be basking in for years to come.

Do yourself an immense favor and lose yourself in Wilsner's singular voice and the utterly irresistible Phoebe and Grace for the next couple days - this is the sort of sapphic love story that will make you deliriously giddy to live in this reveling in the glow of radical queer affirmation long after the final pages. Perhaps more importantly, "Cleat Cute" is a shining example of why LGBTQIA representation in romantic fiction remains so vital and empowering, a balm for queers of all ages to revel in the joys of characters navigating the world bravely and authentically as themselves. Absolutely wonderful in every respect - I'm verklempt, I adore it, and I cannot wait to see what Wilsner has in store for us next.

Enjoying this review? If you love exploring love stories, check out That Love Podcast! We bring you original, bite-sized audio rom-coms. Discover your next favorite here:


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