A warning: this book will make you crave pancakes.
This book will also make you crave other things: from strawberry milkshake pop-tarts to specialty diner specials to owning plants with adorable names and listening to the radio late at night before falling asleep. Improbably, it will make you crave riding the subway (even if you’ve never ridden it). And of course, this book will make you crave New York City. There are few books that fully embody New York City in every page and that are written with love and authenticity like One Last Stop. From the near-magical subway scenes on the Q train, the moments set at a 24 hour pancake house (Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes) written so well you could smell the batter, and the eclectic, charming cast of characters that all call the city home, somehow, even though Casey McQuiston isn’t a Native New Yorker, she manages to capture things that feel quintessentially New York.
Its also one of the most romantic books I’ve read. But I think that’s a Casey McQuiston specialty. Her bestselling debut, Red, White and Royal Blue set the bar pretty high in terms of contemporary romances and I think she managed to raise it higher with her sophomore novel.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the most buzz-worthy book this season, a little summary: August Landry is a prickly hedgehog of a young woman, who moves to the city hoping to escape from a loneliness she’s felt her whole life. She doesn’t expect to find a home there, but she hopes she finds a reason to stay. Her entire life has been mostly centered around a cold case—before she was born, her mother’s brother disappeared without a trace. August was raised on a steady diet of self-defense, lock picking and investigative tactics. Her mother moved them around so the two never settled anywhere that August felt like home. Twenty-three and aimless, she flees to finish out college in NYC in the hopes of never thinking about the case again. Its there that she meets Niko, a psychic, his brilliant girlfriend, Myla, and their insightful and sensitive roommate Wes. Before long, they’re the found family she didn’t know she needed and her job at their local place, Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes, offers her stability she desperately needed.
On her way to one of her classes, she has a devastatingly charming meet-cute with a mysterious stranger who offers her a red scarf to cover the spilled coffee all over her. The seconds encounter before she gets off is enough to make an impression and August begins looking for this extremely good-looking, kind woman every time she steps on the Q. It isn’t long before they become friends. Jane is enigmatic and August is drawn to her, the way she carries herself and how she goes out of her way to help other passengers. But it becomes quickly apparent that there’s something odd about Jane’s presence on the subway and the good luck that August has in always being able to meet up with her, isn’t a coincidence. Beyond all reason, Jane is stuck on the train. Every time she gets off she gets zapped back. And she remembers almost nothing about her past or herself.
Despite August’s vow to never get involved with cases again, she uses her past-detective experience to look into Jane’s history. A history that starts decades earlier. Jane has time traveled from the 70s and has gotten stuck in the present. Doomed from the start, August tries to deny her feelings for Jane, knowing that if they crack the case, Jane could return to her own time.
As a Cis White woman I can’t comment directly on whether or not the representation was done well other than to recognize that I enjoyed reading a book that was happily inclusive. It felt very New York, another reason to love this book. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t recognize problems for the Queer community even in a city like New York. It was refreshing to read an author deftly handle both Queer joy and acknowledge past pain—especially in moments that could have ended up a lot worse.
Though sad at times—you can really feel August’s loneliness—the moments where she schemes with her friends and relishes in her found family in her apartment and at the diner, make this book shine. Its easy to believe while reading this book, after the solitude of the pandemic, that with a little luck you can find your people. And that’s really beautiful to read. You will laugh, full on snort and giggle and grin excitedly as you read about Jane and August’s adventures on the Q. Jane—big-hearted, unafraid and fiercely loyal and August—prickly, anxious, afraid to let people in—complement each other so well. Their journey, literally, is one of the best parts of the book, second to the mystery of Jane’s time travel.
I read this book slowly, savoring it and letting it settle like a spectacularly filling pancake breakfast. I was left feeling warm and hopeful for a world where books like this exist—books where people find each other and then find ways to stay together, despite time travel and other improbabilities. Read this book while eating pancakes or your favorite comfort food.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston was published on June 1 , 2021.