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Strong and Sweet

Updated: Apr 14, 2023


At the opening of the exceptionally well-written novella Coming Home, we meet Elliot (they/them), a butch dyke living as a freelance writer in Oregon. They´re feeling a bit anxious about returning to where they grew up, in Boise, Idaho for a ten-year reunion of their high school soccer team. Elliot looks forward to seeing their friends, as well as a former teacher and counsellor. But the real draw is Sam: she was the other co-captain of the soccer team back in the day, the first one to come out as lesbian when they were all in high school, and the one that Elliot´s had a crush since they were a teenager. Having come out only after graduating from high school and moving out of state, Elliot is nervous about how they will be received. Will it be awkward, or exciting?

There´s only one way to find out, and author Leo Wilder expertly chronicles the trip, which turns out to have more sexy and sweet surprises than Elliot expected. Told from Elliot´s point of view, readers get to share in their unfolding emotional shifts, from curiousity and flirtation to excitement and fulfilment. When Elliot runs into a former boyfriend from when they were in high school, readers (especially queer and/or nonbinary folks) will identify with the uneasiness of the encounter, as well as be reminded of the value of good friends. For the most part, the supporting characters in Coming Home accept Elliot for who they are, and display a degree of acceptance and understanding that hits just the right note of truth. Each one of their friends who played on the soccer team are a good egg.

And then there´s Sam. Wow, do sparks immediately fly as soon as this character arrives on the scene! It quickly becomes evident that she´s had a long overdue crush on Elliot, too, and Wilder choreographs the growing intimacy of their encounter wonderfully. When they challenge one another to a one-on-one soccer match on a dare, it´s playful; later, when they play the hottest game of pool in the history of Idaho, readers will be just as flushed as Elliot by the end.

The pace of the growing affection between the two main characters is beautiful as well as believable, and Wilder displays great talent in guiding the reader through the experience of Elliot´s building desire for Sam. Just like in real life, the two are turned on by the fantasy and the expectation, and they use language to get off from afar until their years-long pining can finally be consummated. Alternating with their budding romance are scenes of masturbation and sexting, until the two finally get to enjoy some hot sex together. Whether you enjoy erotica or romance, Coming Home promises to deliver on both

The emotional and erotic lives of butch dykes, a distinct yet complicated identity within queer culture, is unapologetically centered in Coming Home. True, both Elliot and Sam are lesbians who "present themselves as masculine" in public, from their names and their short-cropped hair, to calling each other Daddy or boy. Such gestures certainly challenge our assumptions about gender-roles, but of course, being butch is about far more than these examples. Some writers might have chosen to explain who these characters are, to weave some kind of definitive explanation into the narrative, about what butch "is" (and is not). Thankfully, Wilder avoids such a pitfall, refusing to justify why Sam or Elliot are who they are. Instead, readers are invited into their world and into their lives, and Coming Home portrays them with intelligence, affection, and pride. I highly recommend this book, and learning more about the writings by Leo Wilder.

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