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McQuiston-One Last Stop-coverCasey McQuiston’s One Last Stop begins with August Landry answering an apartment ad taped on a trash can. “Must Be Queer & Trans Friendly. Must Not Be Afraid of Fire Or Dogs. No Libras, We Already Have One. Call Niko.” August is skeptical, but she doesn’t have much of a choice: she’s just moved to Brooklyn from outside New Orleans with almost no money and a college degree to finish. But she moves into the apartment with Niko the literal psychic, Myla the sculptor cum electrical engineer, and Wes the tattoo artist recluse. August doesn’t have friends, never has. She’s spent her life helping her single mother, who’s spent decades obsessed with solving the mystery of how her brother—August’s uncle Augie—disappeared, and whether or not he’s still alive. (The novel does eventually resolve this, in a way I won’t spoil here.) Once August settles in, though, she begins making friends with her roommates by accident, and with her fellow employees at Billy’s, the 24-hour pancake house where she finds a part-time job. One Last Stop is about these relationships, but, oh yes, it’s also about the extraordinarily hot butch named Jane Su, who August meets on the Q train one day. Jane, who’s cocky and funny and kind. Jane, who’s been everywhere and seen everything, and knows how to start a dance party on the train with a cassette player and a grin. Jane, who’s been trapped on the Q train since the 1970s, remembers nothing about her old life, and needs August’s help.

At first, Jane doesn’t know her own last name. She doesn’t even know how long she’s been on the Q. It takes a few chance encounters with Jane for August to even get Jane to admit that she’s stuck. But once she does, August is a goner, for Jane and her case both. August spots a photo of Jane on the wall at Billy’s, which means she was an employee there, and brings Jane food and music from her time in New York in order to unlock further memories of her past. Eventually, August and Jane realize they can unlock memories through kissing. Jane’s kissed a lot of girls, and this means August gets kissed a lot of times. Again, and again, and again.

About halfway through the book, they admit that they’re kissing for real, which means the book has room to explore their relationship after they’ve both agreed to be in one. The two of them are a wonderful pair. August is practical and blunt and sharp, but so is Jane, in a different way. They learn from each other, and when one of them is nervous the other one tries to help. They care enough about each other that when they have a fight about two-thirds of the way into the book, it feels earned, and so does the resolution that comes after. Niko, Myla, and Wes, who are all invested in August and her love life, become friends with Jane, too. They all band together to help Jane escape the subway, which involves a complicated subway-heist plot that’s tied up in an effort to save Billy’s from being bought up by gentrifiers. The science of the time travel is handwaved to hell, but the energy of the heist is spot-on, and Jane is rescued. She isn’t sent back to the 1970s, but sticks around in the year 2020 (a year 2020 without a pandemic), which means that she and August can continue their relationship together. The novel pulls some of its punches about how sad that is for Jane, but it certainly does a wonderful job of making Jane’s new life seem appealing.

I ate One Last Stop alive: 417 pages in about twenty-four hours. Pre-pandemic, this wasn’t unheard of for me, but during the pandemic, I’ve been lucky to get through a book a month. One Last Stop was the big found-family hug I needed: a celebration of queer community and the specific people and relationships that make up our communities, and a hope that maybe something similar is possible in reality, in places we can visit and live in together.

It’s propulsive in the way my favorite mystery novels were when I was growing up, and for many of the same reasons. August is prickly and determined, and she has a heart that needs a little bit of coaxing before she feels fully ready to love. She lives in a place full of intrigue and life that demands to be explored, so she does it for us. She finds mysteries without meaning to; in fact, she actively tries to avoid them. Moving to Brooklyn is supposed to be the start of a life without chasing down answers. But she can’t help herself, and when she dives into the mystery of Jane, One Last Stop also becomes a rich exploration of family legacy, parents, and independence.

August’s mother loves her, but her mother has also shaped August’s life. August’s mother has enlisted August’s help with the mystery of Uncle Augie since August was a small child, which has meant exposing her to difficult adult problems from an early age but without giving her a real way of coping with them. August’s mother has also kept vital parts of August’s life hidden or otherwise inaccessible to her, like family history, money, and the freedom to make friends and develop an independent identity. Their conflict is difficult and complicated and painful in a way that feels true. August and her mother don’t reach a full reconciliation, but they begin to have honest conversations with each other in a way they couldn’t before, and that, to me, seems like real progress.

All of the relationships in this novel are honest like this—the parent-child relationships, but also the romance, the friendship, and everything else. I loved all the people, even the characters we meet in passing, because the book loves them too. All of them feel alive, and all of them feel like they have a spark. This doesn’t mean they’re all happy, especially at the beginning: August’s mother is tortured by the past, and Wes, August’s roommate, has his own family and self-confidence issues that prevent him from chasing after what he wants most. But even when characters are despondent and scared, the book still looks at them with kindness. We know they’ll find some kind of happiness, even if it’s difficult or involves drastic change. It meant a lot to me to read a book so willing to be compassionate towards its characters, especially a book with so many queer characters.

Jane is an absolute butch dreamboat, and McQuiston manages to make her feel like a fully realized person, which is doubly difficult when you have a love interest who’s also an amnesiac. There were moments when I would’ve loved more of her point of view, or to be able to see her lead the way in settings beyond the subway, but by and large, I think One Last Stop tries to do right by her, and succeeds. Myla is utterly beautiful, brilliant, and able to make absolutely anyone feel welcome and comfortable in a room. One Last Stop lands just on this side of making her seem like a person you’d be lucky to meet, rather than someone who’s too good to be true. August’s across-the-hall neighbor, accountant Isaiah, is also known as Annie Depressant, an utterly magnificent drag queen. He adds both groundedness and whimsy to the team, and a wonderful romance arc with Wes.

But my hands-down favorite is Niko, who, in addition to being perfect comic relief, is a trans man created with loving, intimate detail. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a reaction to a character quite like the one I had when I found out Niko was trans. We find out along with August, when she looks at photographs hanging up on the apartment fridge.

... a photo of a child August can’t quite place: long hair topped with a pink bow, pouting in a Cinderella dress as Disney World glows in the background.
“Who’s this?” August asks.
Niko follows her finger and smiles softly. “Oh, that’s me.”
August looks at him, his sharp eyebrows and steady presence and slim cut jeans, and, well, she did wonder. She’s habitually observant, though he does try to never assume with things like this. But an aggressive kind of warmth rushes into her, and she smiles back. “Oh. Cool.” (p. 78.)

It was gender euphoria—of course the leather jacket psychic greaser “refurbished Springsteen” guy is trans—but it was also something like a surprise gift of recognition. Someone understood what it means for me to be a man; someone gets that and loves it and put it in a story for me to find later.

One Last Stop does have some problems. The time travel element is handwavy to the point of frustration, and sometimes real issues are dodged or smoothed over, about queer history and Brooklyn, and grief, among other things. Another point of concern for me is Wes, August’s third roommate. Wes is fully fleshed out, and I loved him and was aggravated by him in equal measure. But he’s Jewish, and his Jewishness felt tacked-on. Nothing about his family life rang true to me in the way that the book’s portrayals of queerness and New York did. It felt like an afterthought, something added to check a box, which was especially frustrating in a book that seems to be concerned with diversity beyond just lip service. I’m worried that this is a problem for other characters, too, but I’m only in a position to spot the problems with Wes.

Even so, I’m glad One Last Stop exists and I’m glad I read it when I did; I’ll probably read it again in not too long. It feels like a comfort read for us, for us queer found-family city-dwellers. It gives us a whole piñata of happy endings. I read it and I felt a little safer and a little more understood afterwards. I think that’s more than enough.

 

 



Roy Salzman-Cohen is a graduate student in New York studying Homeric Greek, tragedy, and fantasy and science fiction. He loves writing goofy fantasy noir (especially when it involves love letters), the Shield of Achilles, contract bridge, and seedy diners. He runs RPGs at royroleplays.strikingly.com.
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