Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.
Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?
Update 2 June 2017: I’m adding Tasha’s review as a link here because she talks about the ableism in this book.
(Note: all page numbers are from my hardcover edition and I spoil some plot elements late in the review when I’m talking about Mary Carlson getting away with shit)
I wanted to like this book. I’d been excited to read it for months. On a basic writing level, there’s nothing wrong with it. The writing style is easy to read and the protagonist’s voice is fairly strong. I also really liked the peach motif that cropped up here and there, usually tied to sumptuous descriptions that made me kinda hungry.
However, I find I had a lot of issues with the book in terms of structure and prejudice. I’m not an expert on racism, being a white person, but the more I think about it, the more it seems so obvious that I don’t understand how so many people have missed it.
My first issue circulates around the one and only black character in the entire book, Gemma. As far as I can tell, the author is white, and Gemma’s manner of speech was very stereotypical. I almost wanted to keep a tally of how many times she prefaced a sentence with “girl” or threw in some other awkwardly-executed AAVE grammatical mannerisms.
“Because, girl.” Gemma growls. “Our dance parties are epic.”
Her eyes narrow and it’s like I can hear the “Oh no he didn’t” loud as a bullhorn.
“Girl, don’t you lie.” Gemma is straight to the point.
“Girl.” Gemma is attacking a slice of veggie pizza.
There are undoubtedly more examples. These are just the ones I noted in my Goodreads statuses.
I know it’s not just a quirk of being southern since, with the exception of some really uncomfortable AAVE appropriation coming from Jo and her friend, Dana, she was the only character who consistently spoke like this. If the representation had been more varied (as in, Gemma wasn’t the only black character in the whole book), it wouldn’t have been as much of an issue.
EDIT: Jay Coles also pointed out that this perpetuates the “sassy black girl” stereotype, which I should have noted originally.
Sidenote: we as white people need to stop saying “yaaaas” (which Dana says on page 22). Can we stop appropriating from AAVE already? Please. My crops are dying.
Unrelated to the racism of the dialogue, I also hated that Gemma’s attempts to invade Jo’s privacy by getting into her phone were treated as a silly little quirk rather than a horrible thing to do.
Biphobia also rears its ugly head in this book. The most blatant occasion is on PAGE THREE where Jo, the lesbian narrator, says:
I nod toward the late twentyish, early thirtyish bi-curious cougar Dana had been flirting with before she deigned to check up on me.
There’s no good reason the word needs to be there as it does not impact the plot in any way. As a bisexual, this is a word I never want to see again because it is used to invalidate bi women’s queerness as just a phase she’ll grow out of once her so-called curiosity has been sated.
I also had issues with the plot, especially after the mid-point of the book. Honestly, most of the drama could’ve been solved with one basic conversation. Jo’s internal freakout over thinking Mary Carlson would be angry to find she was lying would have been nothing compared to what ultimately transpired because she just would not communicate. Seriously. One little conversation explaining to Mary Carlson why she couldn’t come out and so much of the drama would’ve been resolved before it began.
And don’t get me started on Mary Carlson trying to force Jo out of the closet. That was not okay, even if Jo wasn’t being entirely honest at that point. And yet Mary Carlson isn’t criticised for this. Jo is the one who is forced to apologise for lying and Mary Carlson gets away with everything, even though it was horrible of her to try and force Jo to out herself before she was in a position to do so. They’re living in a judgemental small town in the South, for God’s sake. You’d think she’d know better.
Also, the rival love interest was such a flat, cardboard villain. At least give her some complexity. Come on. Just because she’s an antagonist doesn’t mean she has to be a horrible human being with absolutely no depth or redeeming qualities.
When things weren’t being ridiculous between the main couple, they were pretty cute together. I also liked the development of the relationship between Jo and her stepmother, even if I didn’t think the stepmother should’ve gotten away with as much of her low-level homophobia as she did. But all that cuteness was often punctuated by these issues so ultimately I couldn’t like the book as much as I wanted to.