Start End

Review of Dear Wendy by

Dear Wendy

by Ann Zhao

What’s better than a romcom? A story about friendship in the style of a romcom. Dear Wendy checks off so many boxes that it’s actually eerie: aro/ace protagonists, supportive secondary cast, plenty of humour, and a compassionate story to its core. This was one of my most-anticipated books of 2024, and that does not surprise me. I received an eARC from NetGalley and publisher Feiwel & Friends in exchange for a review.

Sophie and Jo are both aromantic and asexual students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. They meet and befriend one another in their introductory women’s studies course. However, they have something else in common in addition to sexual orientation: each is behind an anonymous Instagram account for relationship advice. Sophie has been running the “Dear Wendy” account for several months, and Jo recently started up “Sincerely, Wanda” as an acerbic Dear Wendy spoof that inadvertently gained its own following. As the two students navigate college life, friendship, and being young aro/ace people in a sea of horny roommates and peers, Sophie and Jo bond while their alter egos feud. What could possibly go wrong?

To say that I love this setup, with its implicit promise of romcom-level misunderstandings and hope for reconciliation, would be an understatement. Although romance isn’t my favourite genre, I have nothing against it, and I actually enjoy a good romcom. But comedies that privilege friendship tend to be quirky buddy comedies. Dear Wendy joins a handful of other stories I can recall that give us a romcom-like story arc to a platonic relationship (shout-out to the Canadian indie film Almost Adults as another example).

To say that I felt seen as an aroace woman with this book is also an understatement. I kept comparing myself to each of the two protagonists, alternatively at times identifying more with Sophie or Jo (but, if I am being honest with myself, I am a total Sophie!). While a lot about each character is different from my story (I’m not the child of immigrants; I don’t have two moms; I never went to an American college, let alone a historically “women’s” college like Wellesley), those details don’t matter as much as the vibes present here. Plus, like these two, I am that aroace always giving her friends relationship advice—seriously.

But most importantly, I know what it is like to watch my friends hook up, pair off, find a romantic soulmate, and wonder what’s out there for me. I know what it is like to question my gender. And I know what it’s like to be confident in my identity but have others (not my parents, thank goodness, but plenty of other people) tell me it’s just a phase or something I will get over once I find “the right person” (it’s not, and I won’t).

All of this is to say that many aro/ace readers are going to see parts of themselves in Sophie and Jo, and it’s lovely.

But I think I need to speak to allo readers (those of you who experience sexual or romantic attraction) for a moment. I don’t want to give the impression that this book is only for aro/ace readers. If anything, I think it is more important for allo readers to pick up Dear Wendy, and I think you will enjoy it too.

First, so many of the best parts of this book are only tangentially related to Sophie and Jo’s queer identities. Zhao suffuses this book with nonstop gags and powerful scenes of female friendship. Whether it’s Sophie bonding with her women’s studies prof, Jo spending time with their roommates, or the two of them hanging out and watching a movie (until Jo disturbs Sophie by breaking down and crying, lol), Dear Wendy is pitch-perfect new adult storytelling. It’s about two young people finding their independence in college, getting super excited about dumb shit and important stuff alike, making mistakes, and picking themselves back up after they fall down. It’s beautiful.

Second, I love how the conflict in this story is so mellow. Everyone around Sophie and Jo is just so damn supportive, and it is the kind of wholesome energy I need in April 2024. All of the conflict in this book comes from realistic misunderstandings and behaviour that makes sense for young college students. When everything inevitably blows up in Sophie and Jo’s friendship, it blows up in a sensible way, the drama far from melodramatic. There are no larger-than-life villains in this book. Even Sophie’s relationship with her aphobic mother is a nuanced one.

Zhao has somehow managed to capture what it’s like to live in an aphobic (and, more broadly, queerphobic) society without including overt instances of aphobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Maybe this is a consequence of the inclusive setting of Wellesley—which, as Sophie and Jo discover, is far from perfect but seems to be a refreshing bubble of acceptance. There are no moustache-twirling queerphobes here. (The dearth of cis straight male characters in the book might also have something to do with this, but I was even expecting one of the female characters to take off her mask and reveal she was secretly a TERF or aphobe or something, and it never happens.)

Which brings me to the final reason I need allo readers to devour Dear Wendy: I need you to see happy, well-adjusted aro/ace characters in fiction. Yeah, Sophie has some friction with her parents, and Jo has their moments of struggling with what their sexuality means for their future. At the end of the day, though, they are no more or less happy than their allo peers. (If anything, they both embody the sheer relief I often feel as my friends recount their relationship problems to me, and all I can think is, “That sounds exhausting. Couldn’t be me!”) Dear Wendy, with its subversion of romantic tropes to deliver us an HEA predicated upon platonic values, is a daring form of resistance to compulsory sexuality.

At this point you might be thinking, “Kara, of course you’re going to give this book five stars because you are incredibly biased.” And, reader, you might be right (but whomst among us is not?). Except that when I look back at my asexual-themed reads, I find that I actually tend to be quite critical. So instead of taking this rating and review with a grain of salt, view it as what it is: a full-throated and unabashed endorsement of an aro/ace-themed novel that gets it. And no, Dear Wendy cannot be everything to every aro/ace reader. Sophie and Jo are but two characters, of a particular age, following a particular plot. We continue to need a plethora of diverse aro/ace stories, and many of those won’t work for me.

But this one does. Oh, does it ever. If I could have a platonic life partnership with this book, I would.

I will never walk down an aisle towards the partner of my dreams. I will probably never live with anyone else. I am in my thirties, and my friends are pairing up and having children, and I feel like a movie character caught in a time-lapse effect where they stand still while the background extras turn into motion blurs around them. Being aro/ace can be incredibly lonely at times. But it can also feel incredibly freeing. Dear Wendy explores both of these truths, and it does so with incredible grace and no small amount of wisdom.


Share on the socials

Twitter Facebook

Let me know what you think

Goodreads LogoStoryGraph Logo

Enjoying my reviews?

Tip meBuy me a tea