Light Time Travel and Sapphic Romance on the Q-Train: A Review of Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop
Coming off the heels of their breakout debut novel “Red, White, and Royal Blue,” author Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel is every bit as expertly written, heartwarmingly romantic, and unapologetically queer as you’d expect.
By Lance Serafica
Remember all those times you’ve locked eyes with an absurdly attractive stranger while taking public transport? Maybe it’s the bus in your small town or the subway in a big city, but for those few, fleeting seconds where your gaze locks onto their’s, you find yourself falling head over heels for this person you know nothing about. There’s a certain magic to it. But inevitably, one of you reaches your destination. Your time together comes to a close, and the feelings vanish like smoke, becoming one of many passionate but short-lived public transport love affairs.
In Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop, protagonist August Landry—perpetual planner, unofficial investigator, and newly moved to New York City—experiences this the very time she rides the Q-train.
The very first time her gaze meets Jane’s, who she immediately describes as “a tall butch subway angel,” it’s all electricity, nervous butterflies, and palpable sexual tension. What’s more, instead of the attraction fizzling, it only grows as the two continue to see one another on the Q-train day after day
But after talking with Jane for a bit, August discovers one huge complication: she’s displaced in time from the 1970’s, and it’s up to August to figure out how to get her back. But as the two of them spend more time together, August finds herself falling for Jane, the very girl who she is trying to send back in time.
McQuiston’s prose reads as not just that of a seasoned author, but the kind that knows how to perfectly hit the sweet spot between cut-and-dry and purple: in the best way possible, their writing reads as somewhere in between that of a novel very clearly written in the twenty-first century (acerbic wit and clever quips included) and the ancient love poetry of Sappho herself: One Last Stop’s prose, fittingly, has a perfect sense of timing.
McQuiston knows exactly when to write long, sweeping paragraphs detailing the love August and Jane feel for one another that will have the reader swooning right along with them. But they also know to pepper those serious, passionately written declarations of love with smart, razor-sharp dialogue that will inspire more than one chuckle in readers. Like any good author, they are able to adapt their writing to the emotions their characters are feeling in that specific moment.
What is also incredibly impressive about this novel is how grounded it seems due to the well-realized sense of both place and person embedded into the core of this novel. This quality was also present in McQuiston’s debut, but it is particularly impressive in this book: under McQuiston’s careful pen, New York City is characterized as the strange and expansive ecosystem that it actually is in real life with an added dash of romcom magic. Everything in this novel feels very specific—from August’s commute on the Q-train to her apartment on Flatbush Avenue—and as such, feels grounded in reality.
But of course, what truly shines in this novel is its superb sense of person within it and the excellent characterization and character exploration born out of it. Despite being told in third person present-tense from August’s perspective, McQuiston somehow manages to make every single character, regardless of page time, fully fleshed out and realized.
One of the best examples of this is Jane, who is given much more depth than being August’s leather jacket-wearing love interest: she is always ready with a charismatic, wolf-sharp grin, has an appetite for adventure and is passionate about social justice causes close to her heart. But beneath all of that, she is also a girl divorced from the time she belongs in and everyone she loves within it; McQuiston gives her the space to be strong and vulnerable, cracking her character open in a way that is impossibly compelling.
From the very first moment she and August meet on that fateful ride on the Q-train, the mutual attraction is apparent and the love story that ensues is nothing short of sweet, spicy, and satisfying. Watching their progression is as heartwarming as it is exciting, with the two of them growing as individuals as well as growing together. As the pages flip by and they grow closer, any reader will find themselves so desperately wishing for the two of them to somehow end up together in spite of everything.
It’d be remiss to discuss this book and not talk about the fact that at its core, One Last Stop is about queer community and the ways in which people find, perhaps for the first time in their lives, a place to belong to within it. August begins this novel alone, used to not quite feeling like she hasn’t found a home she feels she belongs to; over the course of it, she finds family in her roommates—Niko, Myla, and Wes, who are all members of the LGBTQ community—and a cause to believe in Billy’s, the small restaurant she finds a job at that is dealing with the effects of gentrification.
As indicated by its title, One Last Stop is all about its characters finding their “one last stop:” McQuiston has written a profoundly romantic, dazzlingly queer, and reread worthy story all about finding not just your place in the world, but a home you claim as yours—whether it’d be the right place, person, time, or some combination of all three.
My verdict: One Last Stop is an incredibly written love story that will have you daydreaming long after the romantic ride it takes you on.
Lance Robin Serafica
is a writing intern for Quade Media who can be found with his nose buried in a book or obsessively listening to Taylor Swift’s extensive discography. He is currently pursuing a BA in English, a minor in Creative Writing, and a minor in Strategic Communications at Rowan University. You can find more of his opinions on books on his Goodreads page.