“At Her Service” Is a Sweet Sapphic Romance With Crucial Lesbian Kickball Representation

The first thing I need to say about Amy Spalding‘s sapphic romance novel At Her Service, her second in the nascent Out in Hollywood series, is that it really nails its depiction of the the Los Angeles lesbian kickball scene. The unceasing group chat, the off-the-field hangs, the weird nicknames, the violently competitive nature of an allegedly non-competitive league: it’s all there. But what it gets right most acutely and more abstractly is the precise spirit that has led to the runaway success of recreational lesbian kickball in Los Angeles: queer women and non-binary people who are various degrees of desperate for community and an unceasing group chat. And although At Her Service is technically a rom-com, I was most drawn to its depiction of a young lesbian not just looking for love but also for friends and direction and an authentic place to grow within a town and an industry known for its superficiality.

Max, the 26-year-old heroine of At Her Service, wants her career at LA talent agency Exemplar to move forward. She wants Sadie, the bartender she’s crushing on, to return her affections. And, like so many L.A. homosexuals, she wants her life to more closely resemble The L Word episodes she binged as a budding queer in Kentucky. Her roommate, Chelsey, a popular influencer, thinks she’s got the answer for Max: Chelsey’s been offered a spon-con deal with self-actualization app “You Point Oh” but because Chelsey’s already living a bit of a dreamy life, she’d like Max to be the subject of her sponsored series. (Although Max did reap some material rewards and a free personal trainer from the deal, I was appalled that Chelsey did not offer Max a financial cut of what she was making for this sponcon deal! But that’s none of my business!) It turns out that with a little bit of support and introspection and a lot of being pushed out of her comfort zone, Max may in fact be capable of moving her own life forward in the directions of her dreams.

At Her Service can absolutely be read as a standalone novel, but Max getting her own book will be a particular delight for those who met her in the first book in the Out in Hollywood series, For Her Consideration, a delightful love story between rising lesbian movie star Ari Fox and Nina, the girl who writes emails for Exemplar’s clients, including Ari Fox. Max was the assistant to Joyce, the high-powered agent Nina also worked for. I obviously envisioned Ari Fox to be Kristen Stewart, as I do every time there is a lesbian movie star in a novel. (see also: Plain Bad Heroines). I plowed through For Her Consideration in a few days last year and had a fantastic time doing so. (Even though I did not understand this paparazzi-and-fandom-free version of Los Angeles in which Ari Fox’s romantic activities were seemingly rarely of interest to anybody in her physical vicinity!) I was therefore thrilled when Heather told me Spalding had a new book coming out soon, this one centered on Max. When Nina and Ari show up periodically in Max’s story, you can really feel the pieces of this world taking shape, and I’m eager for future books!

Honestly, until last year I’d overlooked this entire genre of literature. You know the kind — bright covers, illustrated lesbians or gay men eyeing each other with Low-Stakes Romance Energy, handwriting-inspired typography. Then, I picked up Red, White and Royal Blue and realized that in fact, reading a queer romance novel was similar to lying down on a cloud and drinking a sugar soda, and who doesn’t want to do that? Sure, sometimes they’re too cheesy for my dark soul and I’m often surprised to read that a character was cracking up or otherwise succumbing to unbearable fits of laughter after a line that barely registered to me as a joke. But they’re also just so fun, and so gay! And I wish more books like this had existed when I was younger!

At Her Service and For Her Consideration are both fantastic sugar sodas. Spalding’s writing is engaging and well-paced, and all of Max’s layers and contradictions, as well as her journey towards self-actualization, felt real and earned. I can imagine this book will be especially relatable to queers in their twenties and to any human being who, like me, has such a loud internal monologue of insecurity that they lack any awareness whatsoever of how they are actually perceived by others (for better or for worse!). Max and her crush, Sadie, are also both masculine lesbians, a pairing sadly rarely represented in sapphic fiction. I was rooting for Max with my whole heart all the way through.

While Max wishes her life was more like The L Word, it’s actually not unlike Generation Q — just a little bit more down-to-earth and a little bit lighter, and with a more traditional adherence to the passage of time. It’s also a more sanitized version of gay Los Angeles than I see in my own life and on Showtime, but that’s typical of the genre regardless of setting, and it didn’t distract or bother me — if anything, it calmed me. (But ask me for my 10-minute monologue on the absolutely maddeningly cloying version of New York City portrayed One Last Stop!!!) 

Still, At Her Service has got so much of what actually worked on Generation Q: ambitious twentysomethings working Hollywood-adjacent jobs and earning wildly variant incomes, a bar where everybody knows your name, seemingly unattainable crushes and the looming specter of social media. It’s peppered with lively, specific details that reflect a deep knowledge of the city and history and its gays (including, much to my personal delight, a reference to smash hit podcast To L and Back) and, most importantly, how we like to name our kickball teams. Spalding’s Los Angeles is charming and serendipitous and sexy and heartwarming, and I think we all deserve a bit of that sunshine.

Buy At Her Service.

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Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3178 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. I am intrigued by the book and also VERY much want that 10 minute monologue on sanitised new york!!!! And I say this as someone who really enjoyed One Last Stop regardless

      • ok so with the caveat that i read it two years ago, i remember i really enjoyed the jane storyline and all the time travel stuff, and jane’s story about her past, and i was deeply invested in all of that! but the rest of august’s storyline drove me a bit bananas, it seemed like she lived on some kind of queer sesame street (except without the roots in her community like they had on sesame street) where she’s instant friends with her cadre of super eclectic and eager-to-befriend-her queer neighbors and gets a job at this magical local pancake place that has deep ties to its community but somehow is willing to employ her, a person who literally never goes to work and just showed up with nothing special about her compared to the 500 other people on her block who also need a waitressing job, and idk, it felt like a fantasy written by someone who saw RENT a lot!!

        on goodreads there’s a review by a user named Nim that breaks down a lot of what’s frustrating about the book to her as ‘a bisexual nonwhite new yorker with roots in flatbush’ and i feel like probably if we are being honest and we are, she knows what she’s talking about better than i do

  2. “I wish more books like this had existed when I was younger!”

    This is always my overriding statement when I’m breezing through these kinds of books, and I am very glad you have discovered the high drama of the low stakes romances. As I am so more worldly when it comes to these books (I think I started reading them a whole 3 years ago) I can reveal that the covers used to be so much worse!

    Anyway, I will definitely put this book on my to read list. I’ve read one of the author’s YA books and wasn’t totally grabbed, but there’s no way I can resist a lesbian romance featuring niche sports.

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