Book Review: Stay

There are rules in romance books. Readers who are new to romance quickly learn that based on your genre, sub-genre, and trope, there are things that Should or Should Not Happen in a book, and to deviate from that leaves readers confused or even angry.

In their book Stay, Ash Knight nods to the tropes, the guidelines, and the ‘must-have’s’ of a hurt/comfort story. But she does it in a way that is unique and true to life without losing the little pieces of authenticity and hard-won lessons that can often be missing in renditions of weathered romance tales.

Stay is a heartwarming gay romance featuring a main character on the autistic spectrum, giving light to two minorities that don’t often fit into the mainstream, let alone together. More than that, it’s a beautiful example of what a deep, communicative relationship can be between two very different people, even after the experience of severe trauma.

Our story begins with Madden living a life of routine and normalcy as an ER nurse, a strong juxtaposition to the life of Joe, homeless and making his bed behind a gym. A storm sets the two on the path to each other thanks to the kindness of Lulu, the owner of a local cafe, and we begin our journey towards Joe and Madden finding themselves in each other.

The Good:

One of the most interesting things I found about Stay is that it delves deep into the thought process and relationship of someone on the autistic spectrum. Even within the book it’s made clear that there’s no one experience of autism, and that Joe’s experience isn’t meant to be the Bible of how people on the spectrum live or behave. It was nice though to see the different ways Joe looks at things explained on the page, and it made me think a lot about my own experience with friends or students I’ve known on the spectrum.

It’s also nice to see another gay romance where the relationship is normalized. There is some mention of past coming out, but the story itself is not about coming out as gay. The people around the characters don’t bat an eye at the same-sex part of their relationship, and it never becomes an issue. It was refreshing.

Should You Read It:

As always, please be aware of any Trigger Warnings that may be relevant to you. I’ve included a list at the bottom of the review. There are some pretty significant ones in the novel, so please take caution if you have concerns.

In a nutshell—if you like gay romance, Stay is a book you’ll want to add to your To Be Read pile. It has all the hallmarks of a good gay romance, but still managed to go above and beyond the genre-typical fare. There is a reason why this book was a Goodreads Member Choice Awards Nominee in the Debut Author category. Ash Knight knows how to balance tension and comfort for a read that is hard to put down, and you’ll be sad to see it end.

If you aren’t someone who’s delved into the gay romance genre, this is a book for people who enjoy reading stories of redemption through love and companionship, of two people becoming better for their relationship. It’s a romance in the truest sense of the word, not just as a vehicle for a physical relationship.

Trigger Warnings: Sexual Assault, Past Rape, Homelessness, Violence, Sexual Situations

Author Interview: Ash Knight

Sometimes, authors seem to come fully formed out of the aether, landing on Earth as some sort of gospel prophet ready to disseminate their work to the disheveled masses. There was a lot less holy talk and more steamy sex scenes, but this is the kind of story you get hearing about the book and success of Ash Knight.

Despite being someone who self-proclaimed didn’t like to read until later in life (as you can read more about below,) Knight was nominated for Best Debut Novel for Stay in the Goodreads Member’s Choice awards in 2020, and their novel is a #WritingCommunity favorite on Twitter. You don’t have to talk with her long to know why- she’s earnest, down-to-earth, and writes like someone who’s been doing it their whole life. What’s not to love?

I was happy to interview Knight below. You can also read my book review of Stay here.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I’m a wife and a mother of twin boys.  One of them has ASD.  I grew up hating to read, never enjoying books at all.  When I was 30 a good friend of mine gave me a book to read and then more and more and I  couldn’t stop reading, which eventually led me to writing.

Tell us about your novel, Stay.  

I wanted to write a story that wasn’t just about sex or some random meaningless made up characters.  I had this character in my head that was very loosely based on an adult version of me, my son with ASD, my parents, and just the inner me with a loud voice.  The character wouldn’t leave me alone and it turned into a story that I couldn’t let go of, which ended up being Stay.  In the end, Joe had to be male and his love interest would have to be male.  So I did some research, asked questions, made so many amazing gay friends along the way, and discovered a new world ourside of what I had grown up with.  So, in the end, this story about an autistic character ended up also, hopefully, showing the world that there’s hope for love for everyone no matter their background, sex, history, etc and there can also be a happy ever after.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How? 

The novel that really impacted and affected me was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I felt like my entire world opened up when I read that book.  It broke through so many boundaries that I had in my head about what a novel should be.  There were pages of handwritten drawings and writings mixed in with the text and the love that just bled from the pages was incredibly profound.  It changed me and the way I saw books and the meaning behind individual words and how much impact they can have.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?  

I sincerely hope that a bit of the stigma around ASD is lessened because every single person diagnosed is different.  There is always hope for a ‘typical’ future for everyone with ASD.  I also want the world to see that two men can find love together, mean everything to each other, and be happy.  They can live happily ever after and should have the right to do so.  I hope the casual way my characters just both happen to be men comes across to show how casual we should feel about it in our own lives.

It sounds like you went great lengths to normalize ASD and gay relationships in your novel. Did you anticipate, or have you received any criticism because of your choices?

I didn’t really anticipate having readers at all to be completely honest, so it didn’t really occur to me to have criticism as far as writing my characters went, but yes, I have had some reviews indicating that I should have done some research on Autism before writing a book about its characteristics and struggles.  The truth is, there is no one box when it comes to Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I wrote Joe based upon what I see in my son.  He’s charming, hilarious, and emotional.  He is concerned for others, and he picks up banter from conversations and movies, etc, so he’s able to interact in a socially appropriate setting from time to time. 

On the other end of the spectrum, have you felt support from both the ASD and LGBTQ+ community now that the book is out there?

I have read many emotional reviews about family members of a child with ASD that have thanked me for giving them hope.  That has meant the world to me, because that is exactly what my purpose was in writing Joe’s character.  I have had so much support from the LGBTQIA+ community it’s been unreal and I’ve been so humbled by it.  Starting this story of these two men getting to know each other through more than just words and conversation was scary, as a cishet woman, but I wouldn’t have written Joe and Madden’s story if I didn’t have the support and assistance of those in the gay community to ensure I was giving their relationship a genuine feel.

What is different about your novel? 

I hope it’s the way my story is so character driven.  I have such a sense of my characters that I can picture how they sit, where they sit, what they look like when they’re happy, nervous, sad, excited, embarrassed, etc.  I know their tells, and I try so hard to be descriptive enough that it feels like you’re right there in the room with them.

What are your plans for future novels?  

I am just about to release a New Adult Romance novel about a man and woman that went to high school together and meet again in college.  The female character has been through a rough time and has shied away from social situations, but when her old friend sees her on campus, she can’t seem to turn him down.

What inspires you to write? 

My characters in my head tell me their stories and they so strongly need to get out of my head, I just have to write them down.  I also am a strong believer in love.  Specifically that everyone is worthy of love in their life.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with? 

Editing is the worst for me.  I just want to write and be done.  I get to the point where I feel like I’ve memorized every page and I just can’t read it anymore.  I’m also too impatient to let it sit too long, lol.

Do you see yourself pursuing traditional publishing in the future, or continuing to self-publish primarily?

I feel like it’s a dream come true to be traditionally published by anyone who wants to succeed in their writing career, assuming they end up on the NYT Best Sellers List.  I feel like marketing and promoting yourself is difficult, and if there was someone who could take some of that burden off, that would be amazing, but most of it would still be on my shoulders anyway, so I’m happy for now self-publishing as I am.  I’m happy to get my stories out into the world on my schedule.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it? 

I think my greatest struggle is patience.  Once I feel done, I just want to publish it.  I don’t want to wait for editing and beta reading and editing, etc.  It’s just really not my strong suit.

How can we purchase your book?  

Stay is available on Amazon only, but I’m offering signed paperback copies on my website as well, at https://ash-knight.com