Tash Hearts Tolstoy

A young filmmaker with a passion for Tolstoy finds her life turned on its head when her web-series gets nominated for a Golden Tuba, she starts to fall for a guy she met online, and her parents surprise her with a new addition. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a cute exploration of the stresses of making a web-series, the confusion of attraction and flirtation and friendship, and growing up. Plus, it’s set in my home-state of Kentucky, in a town I once lived in. The setting didn’t play a HUGE role in the plot, but it was kind of cool to GET all the geographic references for once.

Tash Zelenka and her friend Jack make a web-series that is a modernization of Anna Karenina, the cast made up of friends and siblings and people they met at arts camp. They enjoy making it, but it’s nothing major. But then…a popular YouTube celebrity mentions them and their fame skyrockets overnight. Okay, not like Justin Bieber skyrocket but they get 60K new subscribers in a hot second and suddenly they’re nominated for what amounts to a web-series Oscar–a Golden Tuba. And not only is she preparing for that, which involves finishing the web series and finding the money to go to the awards, she’s also got a burgeoning crush on another YouTuber, Thom, but things are kind of complicated because Tash identifies as a romantic asexual and doesn’t know how or when to bring it up to Thom. And then there’s her family, which is a tough situation because her sister is going off to college and her parents have quite the surprise to spring on them. All of this kind of collides into a cute, really fascinating contemporary book that does a lot of summarizing and not so much plotting but is still super enjoyable. I like contemporary books that actually feel contemporary and not like they could have just as easily taken place in 1993.  This has YouTube and smart phones and concerts and it feels really developed as a teenage world.

One thing that I really enjoyed about this book was the characters. Tash feels real to me, even if she’s not perfect she is understandable. But because she’s not perfect you can understand the frustration her friend Jack has with her and also how her sister Klaudie feels. Then there are the men, specifically Thom and Paul, who serve as nice counterpoints to each other. I won’t spoil and say who I prefer, but about twenty pages into this book things will be obvious. Just because Tash didn’t see it coming doesn’t mean the reader doesn’t.

I think this was also the first book I read in which a protagonist identified as asexual in anyway, let alone a romantic asexual. I like Tash, in her own words, explained it to her friends and herself and the reader and didn’t let imaginations run too rampant, but it also felt true to reality that other people, and even her, struggled to reconcile words with actions and identity with actions and all that jazz.I mean, the person who told her her identity was an internet construct was kind of an asshole, but even that interaction felt unfortunately realistic. Either way, I thought this book was an interesting foray into what asexuality does and doesn’t look like and how it does and doesn’t have to impact a story because while Tash is asexual, that isn’t WHO she is and it doesn’t even impact that much of the story.

Overall, this book wasn’t the most well-written I’ve ever read. There was cheese and cliche and I felt like a lot of summarization happened in scenes to make time pass, but I liked the concept and the execution and how true it felt to teenage-ness and life in Kentucky sometimes. I recommend this book if you’re looking for an out of the box LGBTQ read or just something to make you smile.

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