- Page Count: 432
- Release Date: May 9, 2017
- My Rating: 5 stars
Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever. Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.
The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.
This was one of the most beautifully honest books I’ve ever found. It took me like twice as long to read it at a super slow pace because I was so into everything! I think I highlighted half of this book…
“You don’t have to give into the idea that your life is supposed to turn out a certain way.”
Ramona is a 6’3” teen with blue hair who lives in a deteriorating FEMA trailer with her dad, sister, and sister’s boyfriend. Their mom left after Hurricane Katrina and their dad spends all of his time working incredibly hard for very little pay. Ramona had some cash saved up to get herself out of there, but decides to use it to help when her sister gets pregnant.
”There’s something unfair about the fact that by being born her sister, my destiny is predetermined. I will always be a few steps behind her, picking up the pieces and putting them back together again, waiting for my own life to start.
The story takes all of these situations that could easily be depressing and weaves them into an insightful, hopeful narrative that ends up being a beautiful portrait of a teen figuring out who she’ll allow herself to be. Ramona’s put a lot of unintentional limitations on herself in multiple areas of her life and slowly starts to see she has the freedom to choose.
“You let yourself die on that cross, Ramona. But the only thing that’s keeping you in this town is the fear of the unknown… life will always be scary, but you can decide not to live in fear.”
Part of the story revolves around Ramona’s frustration that a girl she was in love with that summer won’t come out or break up with her boyfriend. But then Ramona starts to understand that girl’s confusion. (This is the part of the book that’s been receiving so much hate from people who haven’t read it, so let me say it’s really well done and doesn’t really have the message people have been claiming).
Ramona came out as a lesbian when she was younger, but suddenly finds herself attracted to her childhood friend Freddie. She really wrestles with how this could define her now and doesn’t want anyone to think that she was “kissing girls because the right boy hasn’t come along to turn [her] straight.” She feels guilty every time she kisses Freddie and doesn’t want people to think she’s “cured” now. Ramona’s only lesbian friend reminds her that she’s ”allowed to have the realization that sexuality is fluid or whatever.” But Ramona isn’t comfortable labeling herself as bisexual either. She has some pretty deep insights as she worries that she’ll lose part of her identity. I wish I could articulately convey how well done everything is as Ramona finds her place in the world…
“Maybe it’s not all the little labels that make us who we are. Maybe it’s about how all those labels interact with the world around us. It’s not that I’m gay. It’s that I’m gay in Eulogy, Mississippi. It’s not that I’m tall. It’s that I’m too tall for the trailer I live in. It’s not that I’m poor. It’s that I’m too poor to do and have everything I want.”
I think Ramona’s narration was what made the story so strong. She has no self-pity and is just trying to take care of her family and do the best that she can in each situation. Ramona turns out to be good at swimming and a coach offers to help her, but Ramona thinks she needs to invest all of her time and energy into working. She knows that ”childhood ends and adult life begins the moment you stop believing your parents can rescue you. She’s focused purely on surviving.
This is the first YA story I’ve found that shows what life is like for a poor family who loves each other and is just doing everything they can to get by. Their poverty wasn’t a plot device and the characters were so much more than their situation. I grew up in a poor, rural area and lived in a 8’x5’ camping trailer for awhile, so I can’t explain how wonderful it was to see the depth in these characters. The author accurately depicts a poor life in a small town without looking down on it in any way. And I really related to a ton of Ramona’s observations, like how she’d walk into a friend’s nice house and feel like she was depreciating the value just by being there.
The story covered so many other important things too, like how Freddie has Ramona wake up to the fact that he could be shot for something she’d consider a silly antic because he’s black. The humanity in this story was amazing and I really don’t have the words to properly explain how much I connected with everything. Plus, I was totally enchanted by the writing… it just really conveyed the steady, slower pace of the town and Ramona’s levelheaded approach to life.
So, no, I don’t it’s problematic to have a teenage lesbian fall in love with a guy in the way that this book carries it out. The story sends the positive, healthy message that it’s ok to still be figuring out your sexuality and that you don’t need to worry about restricting yourself to a label. I understand the initial reaction people had to the book description, but the story really ended up being different than the assumptions.
If you like YA contemporaries, this is definitely one of my top recommendations of 2017!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC. The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.