Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Bird in the Oven by Kata Čuić

 This is one of the strangest romance novels I have ever read that wasn't for my What the Actual Fuck Wednesday challenge. Basically, it's rom-com with a breeding kink. Olivia and Ollie are childhood friends and live in a condo next to each other with a shared wall. Both of them have been secretly in love with each other since forever, but neither of them have ever actually confessed. Their relationship, however, swiftly changes course when Ollie's Italian mother is visiting and he accidentally tells her that Olivia is pregnant.

With his baby.

Which is not true, by the way.

Ollie is autistic and has been having a lot of relationship trouble with women. He knows how to follow a script and he's dominant in bed, but he's so insecure about his neurodivergence that he's never allowed anyone to get closed. While his mother interrogates him about his lack of a date and kind of makes an effort to push him away from Olivia, to get him to focus on romantic relationships, he panics. Family, he knows, is something his mother desperately wants and understands. But unfortunately, it's something Olivia desperately wants as well.

Olivia also has major relationship problems: right now, it's that she has none, and at thirty (omg, she's so olllllld *rolls eyes*) she feels the ticking of her biological clock and desperately wants to get pregnant. When she's not Googling "Sperm banks near me" and looking at porn, she's hating on Ollie's girlfriends, who are attracted to his money and his looks, but always seem to love and leave him. At first, his lie to his mother seems unspeakably cruel but eventually she starts to see the sense of it. She would know who the baby's father would be and she already feels safe with him. Why shouldn't they fuck like rabbits so he can impregnate her by Thanksgiving? Nothing about this could possibly go wrong, right?

I hate breeding kink so if I had known what this book was actually about, I would have jumped ship and then left. By the time I realized what was actually going on, I was in too deep to leave. I felt committed to the cause. But honestly... this book was entertaining. I felt like I was held hostage. Part of what makes this book good is that it's just SUCH A WEIRD PLOT that I felt invested in what happened. It's like when someone behind you on the bus is having a dramatic phone call and you kind of find yourself following along, like, "What, your sister in law cheated on her husband and now Kelly wants to bring her love-child to your family cookout? AND HER HUSBAND'S GONNA BE THERE?" I had to find out how this absolutely insane fake-dating/baby-making scheme would go.

There are lots of lines in this book that are incredibly unsexy. I would say 70% of it is phrases I would like to never see again, and 30% of it were some surprisingly hot and kinky dialogues. I did like how they communicated every aspect of their relationship and how consent played a premium in their negotiations. I also liked how, unlike some other neurotypical/neurodivergent pairings I've read, Olivia never tries to "fix" Ollie and she unflinchingly goes to bat for him when other people seem to be trying to use him or put him down. Her acceptance of him for who he was was really well done, and while I'm not sure how good the rep is for Ollie (I didn't see any self-proclaimed #ownvoices reviews for this book), he felt like a caricature at worst but not overtly problematic, and at best, I would argue that he's a great example of how neurodivergence can be neutral or even beneficial in many areas of one's life as long as someone is allowed to live in a way that makes them feel comfortable and useful.

I'm not sure I'll read more books in this series but this author took a trope I normally hate and made me read it until the end, so that speaks pretty highly in her favor.

3 out of 5 stars

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