Soft on Soft by Em Ali: Fat Girls in Love
‘Soft on Soft’ by Em Ali is a self-published romance novel that destroys the idea that all f/f stories end in tragedy.
When did you last read a self-published novel? There are many myths about self-publishing: mainly that the books are badly written and that there’s no market for them. After reading ‘Soft on Soft’, I can definitively say that this is not the case. Rather, it highlights the ways in which traditional publishing lacks diverse stories such as this.
‘Soft on Soft’ follows June, a fat, pansexual Middle Eastern makeup artist with anxiety, and Selena, a fat, black demisexual model. Throughout the year, June has been doing Selena’s makeup for photoshoots, and slowly developing feelings for her. ‘Soft on Soft’ is the story of how their relationship develops through a mutual love of pop culture and cats.
One of the strengths of Ali’s writing is its positivity. While there is an awareness of racism and homophobia, these are not central themes of the novel. Unlike many queer romances, there are no traumatic coming-out scenes, or tragic breakups right when you think it’s all going well. At times June and Selena’s relationship is sugary sweet – so much so that some readers might find it a bit too much. It couldn’t be more different than reigning f/f narratives, such as ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ by Julie Maroh or ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall. But personally, I think that’s a good thing. It was so refreshing to read about girls who are so sweetly, unabashedly in love, without homophobia rearing its ugly head.
Inclusivity is another key theme of this novel: not only do you have June and Selena, but you also have June’s best friend Shelby, a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns. (Ali herself is non-binary, and uses she/her pronouns). There is real consideration for the people reading the book as well. Trigger warnings for specific chapters are given at the very beginning of the novel. As someone who can find depictions of panic attacks overwhelming, I appreciated the warning that it was coming up in Chapter 8. Furthermore, the one sex scene is placed at the very end of the novel, once the main story is over. This means that sex-repulsed people can easily skip over it without missing out on the main romance.
There are a few ways in which ‘Soft on Soft’ could be improved. It does fall into the trap of being under-edited, and because of that there are typos, particularly at the beginning of the book. Similarly, some of the scene transitions weren’t quite as smooth as they could have been. It’s also a very character-driven novel, which may be a disappointment to readers looking for a punchy plot.
That being said, ‘Soft on Soft’, with its dedication to representation of all kinds, is radically fluffy. It’s an example of the type of inclusive romance that queer readers are craving, and I for one can’t wait to see what Ali, and other self-published authors, bring out next.
Trigger warnings: mention of parental death in chapter 2, mental health (anxiety, on-page panic attack in chapter 8, depression), mention of acephobia, mention of fatphobia.
About the author:
Em Ali is a part-time whiner, part-time cat mom. She spends a lot of time reading romance books and crying to Twitter about how good they are. She lives in a pretty chill place called Her Brain, but she allows for visitors. You can find her on Twitter @emaliwrites and connect with her. She’d also appreciate if you could review/rate on Amazon and/or Goodreads.