Hannah's Completely Subjective Ranking of Roan Parrish's Books
In Where We Left Off, the narrator Leo is a physics major who contemplates how to measure abstractions like love and human connection. He eventually realizes that things can often be measured by how much they affect other things, e.g., maybe love can be measured in entropy, as in, how crazy does your relationship make you?
Book reviewers think about quantifying affection a lot. There’s debate over star ratings, and QR reviewers have more or less given up on our site having any cohesive system. Accordingly, it’s been difficult for me to review Roan Parrish’s books. In fact, I’ve only reviewed one to date: Invitation to the Blues. Her books are, to me, so vastly more magnificent than most other things I read that it is difficult to articulate the enormities they trigger within me. 5 stars feel feeble.
Therefore, in accordance with Leo’s freshman college ideas about love and physics, I’m ranking Roan Parrish’s books in comparison with each other, taking into account how much the books affected me. My ordering is therefore necessarily subjective, and I’m sure I’ll change my mind about it many times after this post is published.
My summary: Self-hating closeted homophobe learns to be less self-hating and falls in love with an ex-felon community activist.
Where I was when I read this: Completely enamored with Parrish’s work, but aware that this sequel to In the Middle of Somewhere would have a very different tone and feel.
Why it’s #6 on my list: All books by Parrish are amazing, but this one was difficult to emotionally process. Colin, the narrator, is the only main character of any Parrish novel whom I can confidently say I wouldn’t be friends with in real life. I think it’s both cool and necessary to write characters who are not, honestly, very smart, but between his lack of intellectual curiosity and his constant mental anguish, this was a hard book to read. I was also very aware of having known guys like him in high school and having actively fought and hated them. I loved Rafe, his partner, to pieces, but not Colin.
There were moments while reading where I thought I just need to get through this tough scene, then the book will get brighter, and instead another horrible conflict or tragedy would erupt. This is an angsty, difficult read, and I just can’t cherish it in the gooey, sentimental way that I can the others. However, I know a lot of people rank Out of Nowhere at the top of their favorites for precisely these reasons.
#5: Small Change
My summary: A queer lady tattoo artist in Philadelphia falls in love with a very basic white man. She never has milk in her fridge.
Where I was when I read this: Having a shocked moment of serendipity when I realized Small Change had been on my Kindle since summer 2017 despite me having no recollection of intending to read or having even heard of Parrish before the winter of 2017.
Why it’s #5 on my list: My own baggage (I said this list was subjective). I was sad it wasn’t f/f and disappointed that Ginger identifies as queer but only mentions past relationships with cis men (as far as I recall, they're the only former partners who get names and personalities and stuff). The most satisfying scene in the book was the emotional climax, when Ginger tells Christopher to eff off and stop ruining her life with his male privilege. I was all, “Yeah! Make him suffer!” because of, again, my own baggage. Additionally, I would probably categorize this book more as “women’s fiction” than “romance,” and I think that made for a different reading experience than Parrish’s other books. (Out of Nowhere would also be considered women’s fiction if its narrator were a woman, I think.*)
I hope Parrish writes an f/f one day, and also an m/f with a queer male character, and also just all the books forever because every single one of them is lovely.
Overall, I liked Ginger a lot, but I felt her love for cereal on a spiritual level.
My summary: Poor boy goes to NYU and is still in love with the Manhattan-dwelling model-beautiful older man who kissed him two years ago.
Where I was when I read this: Twelve months after I graduated from NYU, ten months after I left New York City, in bed on a lazy Sunday morning in the rainiest region of Japan.
Why it’s #4 on my list: It’s hard to decide whether it’s #3 or #4, but its ending didn’t entirely satisfy me. I loved Parrish’s descriptions of what used to be my favorite city, and a year after graduating, it was enormously validating to read pages and pages where a narrator is just stressing about NYU midterms and finals. The side characters reminded me of the people I knew at NYU, especially Milton, a rich and outrageous gay black boy with fabulously wealthy activist parents. I know an NYU boy who is also all of those things. His legal name is Austin but he insists everyone call him Augustinius, which is only less weighty than Milton because it’s completely absurd.
My summary: A slightly pretentious man moves to the small town of Holiday, Michigan for his first job in academia. He meets a bear in the woods (I mean that in the gayest sense) and they fall in love. Like his best friend Ginger, he never has milk in his fridge.
Where I was when I read this: This was my second Parrish read. I was thoroughly convinced the first Parrish book I read was a fluke that could never be repeated, and I was about to be proven wrong.
Why it’s #3 on my list: Daniel is probably Parrish’s narrator who is most like me. I don’t choose to like books because the characters’ internal lives are similar to my own, but that is evidently how things have turned out. Daniel also enjoys literature, feels a similar disconnect with his family, and suffers from Imposter’s Syndrome. He’s snobbier than me, but seeing him transform into someone more open-minded was part of what made this book so magical. He’s also much worse at taking care of himself, and reading about a grown adult who never has milk in their own home was admittedly distressing.
My summary: A depressed pianist moves from Boston to Philly after a suicide attempt. He meets a tattoo artist and begins to touch pianos again. (Read my review here.)
Where I was when I read this: Almost a decade after my own diagnosis of dysthymia, I’m doing much more okay than I had imagined I’d be doing. Like Jude, I’m achieving my dreams instead of, like, dying, so A+ to both of us.
Why it’s #2 on my list: Invitation to the Blues captures living with mental illness better than any book, movie, song, et cetera, I have ever encountered in my life. I really don’t know what else to say about it. Parrish did something with a book that I didn’t realize could be done. How do you write that honestly? That insightfully? I have no idea.
Jude is like me in a lot of ways, or like a past version of me. And beyond the purely personal, this book contained some of the most uniquely tender and sensual scenes I’ve ever read.
My summary: A normal man moves to Michigan to open a bakery. He meets a weird man and they fall in love. Holidays happen.
Where I was when I read this: Traveling through Kyoto on Christmas Eve and having a kind of simultaneous nervous breakdown/depressive slump. On the other side of the world from my place of birth, lonely for reasons I couldn’t fully articulate.
Why it’s #1 on my list: It literally got me through the holidays. Before I read it, a very kind woman from China, who was my only roommate in my hostel, asked me if I wanted to go sightseeing with her, and I was too depressed to even fully acknowledge her presence. After I read it, I put the book down and asked if she would spend the day with me. We fed deer together in Nara and hiked hills and ate hot soba to defrost our ice-numb hands. I felt better. I reread Corbin Wale on my train ride back home.
Roan Parrish’s books were my grand personal discovery at the end of 2017, and now that I’m caught up on her existing backlist, I can’t wait to read new releases. Riven is out tomorrow, May 29th, and QR will host a Queering the Craft interview with Parrish. Stop by to read her thoughts on reading, writing, and publishing.
Feel free to leave a comment ranking your own favorite Parrish reads, by the way. <3
*(Romance = falling in love or making a relationship work is the main plot point. Women’s fiction = a broader focus on the protagonist’s own growth, focusing heavily on personal journeys or occupational development, with romance often being an important but less central subplot. I used to assist a lit agent and constantly had to determine which of these two genres slush pile submissions fell into.)