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This Month, We Get Two Sapphic Romances Featuring Black Main Characters

Spring has definitely sprung, and one of my favorite things to do is spend time outside reading. This month, there are two new sapphic romances featuring Black women as the main characters. I have been reading sapphic romance for awhile, and I’ve been reviewing them for Autostraddle for a minute, and this is the first time that I’ve gotten the opportunity to review Black sapphic stories. I know there are more out there, but it’s rare that there is an opportunity to review them or find them if you’re not looking for them specifically.

This year, I’ve gotten into sports romances, especially sports that aren’t common to find in romances. I can safely say that I have never read a sports romance book about bowling. So when I learned about Karmen Lee’s The 7-10 Split, a bowling romance, I immediately had to read it. Bowling is a sport largely known for being something accessible to amateurs — you don’t have to have any real skill to play and have a good time. I love going bowling, even though I suck at it. Sucking is half the fun, if you ask me. To see a romance novel about bowlers would have been enough, but a romance about two Black women who bowl? Say less.

The 7-10 Split is the story of Ava Williams, a teacher at the same small-town Georgia high school she attended as a teen. Ava has been trying for years to get the school’s principal to let her start a bowling team, and he has always given her some sort of excuse for why he couldn’t. Everything changes when the school hires a new science teacher, Grace Jones. Grace is a bowling pro, former college professor, and oh yeah, she’s Ava’s former best friend and bowling rival. Ava and Grace lived and breathed bowling; then they kissed, and everything fell apart. That would be enough reason for Ava to be thrown by Grace’s return, but then the principal okays the bowling team — only if Grace and Ava both agree to be coaches.

It’s hard for me to decide if I want to classify this story as a second chance romance or enemies-to-lovers. Since there’s history between Ava and Grace, it feels more fitting to call it a second chance romance. But there is that delicious fissure of friction that comes with enemies-to-lovers simmering underneath the interactions between the two women. Ava still has unresolved issues with the way Grace pulled away and disappeared when they were teens, which makes a lot of sense. Suddenly losing your best friend in high school would be emotionally devastating for sure. But I think for the sake of classification, I’m going to align with Grace’s handling of their relationship and say that it’s a second chance romance.

Lee does a great job balancing the characters’ past and present. Their history is always lingering in the background, and when it comes to the foreground, it’s that much more powerful, because it never feels like it’s coming out of nowhere. It’s clear that Lee created their backstory to exist as both a plot and a reference point for her writing. Their past, together and apart, is such a huge source of motivation for both Ava and Grace as individuals and as a couple. There’s a scene with Grace’s mom that feels like the culmination of the ways their pasts have been running towards each other. The interaction with Grace’s mother forces both Grace and Ava to take stock of who they are, who they were and what they want now.

While the relationship between Ava and Grace is harder to classify, the relationship between the main characters in A Little Kissing Between Friends by Chencia C. Higgins is firmly friends to lovers. Admittedly, this is not my favorite trope, but reading Higgins’ book made me rethink my feelings about that.

A Little Kissing Between Friends is the story of Cyndi “Cyn Tha Starr” Thomas, a Houston music producer and stripper Juleesa “Jucee” Jones. The two women become best friends after Jucee starts using Cyn’s music during her performances. There are so many things about their dynamic that feels so rare in romance, but it spoke to me. Cyn is a stud, and Jucee is a femme bisexual who has a son from her previous relationship with a man. As a femme who formerly identified as bisexual who has a son from a previous relationship and is now married to a butch, I really enjoyed seeing their dynamic on the page.

It feels rare that you get butch/femme representation anywhere, but especially not in romance novels. (If there are any out there that y’all recommend, I’m all ears). It becomes even more when you add in the fact that we have two Black women as the main characters. Butches and studs deserve more love than they currently get from publishing. If I saw this book on a table at a bookstore, I would pick it up immediately because it feels like something familiar.

The relationship between Cyn and Jucee has easily become one of my favorites. Higgins does such a great job establishing their friendship from the first time Cyn talks about Jucee, that there’s no way they won’t be a couple by the end. They both display a lot of love for each other and their friendship — there’s a deep sense of care and comfort from the very beginning. Cyn talks about folding Jucee and her son Amari into her circle as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And when you’re best friends, it is that easy to do. When they finally do act on their feelings for each other, it doesn’t feel like a shock for the reader, even if it does for the characters. That’s one of the most fun parts about this book in particular. You can tell that Cyn especially is so thrown by her feelings — she’s a player after all. But it’s not just that she caught real feelings for someone, it’s that she caught them for her homie.

Being friends doesn’t stop Cyn and Jucee from going through the same kind of early relationship challenges. If anything, it makes it more obvious that they have more hurdles to jump. Jucee knows the way Cyn plays games and doesn’t commit. She knows the kind of women that Cyn usually entangles herself with. That means she has to work that much harder to push past the complicated feelings she’s having about her bestie. For Cyn, it’s hard to see her homie in a new light. It’s not that she doesn’t want to, but you can tell that for Cyn, who is used to being the top in a romantic situation, being romantic with Jucee will push her so far out of her comfort zone. And that’s not always easy. But as each woman starts to let their guard down and embrace what’s happening, it’s so delightful. I love reading about people getting out of their own way for the sake of love.

One thing that both books share is the HAWT sex scenes. Both Lee and Higgins create such strong visuals when describing their characters fucking that you don’t have to use your imagination at all. Every touch, kiss, caress, feels incredibly real and deliciously sexy. There is something extra sensual about the way Black women love on each other sexually, and I think both authors captured that sensuality so perfectly. I was absolutely fanning myself after each sex scene.

A Little Kissing Between Friends and The 7-10 Split couldn’t be more different books, but that’s what I loved about reading them back-to-back. They serve as a reminder that romance is a smorgasbord of options — there is something out there for everyone. I hope that this means there will be more trad pubs looking to publish Black sapphic stories, because my bookshelf is ready.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 124 articles for us.

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