Ashley reviews Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters

forgivemeifivetoldyouthisbefore

Forgive me if I am entirely naïve, but before reading this book, I did not give much thought to the fact that Oregon was once cruel and unwelcoming to its lesbian and gay residents. In 1989, however, Triinu is living in a town set on passing Ballot Measure 9, and it seems like more residents are for the anti-gay law than against it.

Even before Triinu officially comes out as “the only goth dyke in the Grass Seed Capital,” her principal and classmates target her as a lesbian, taunting her and making high school virtually unbearable. Luckily, Triinu decides to own her status as an outcast, rebranding herself as a goth and hoping to be just weird enough to scare the bullies away.

Parts of this novel were definitely reminiscent of The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Triinu feels similarly isolated in her hometown, and it is the friends she makes on her road to acceptance that help her to come to terms with her identity. There are so many complicated aspects of Triinu’s background – she is Estonian, religious, goth and queer, and therefore on the fringes of nearly all rural Oregon’s social groups. In true high school form, however, Triinu befriends people from a multitude of backgrounds throughout the novel. These diverse outcasts who float in and out of Triinu’s life deeply affect her views of herself and the world, and help her to know herself better by the end.

I thought that the portrayal of Triinu’s first love (and, ultimately, first heartbreak) was especially well written; while the relationship was deeply flawed and often one-sided, I thought it captured the complexities of falling in love while still trying to come to terms with your own identity. In many ways, the eventual break-up is a catalyst for Triinu to realize she deserves real love, and the impetus for her to seek it with renewed energy.

Another relationship that I thought was unique and special was that of Triinu and her parents. It was refreshing for me to read about a teenager who genuinely enjoyed spending time with her deeply intellectual and quirky parents, and the love and trust between the family was clear. When Triinu gets herself in a variety of tough situations, her parents are always willing to believe in their daughter and to stand up for her, even if they do not fully understand her choices.

Perhaps my favorite parts of this novel are the times when Triinu reflects on her religious beliefs and the greater meaning of the world. As a queer Catholic who has been reluctant to give up her religious identity, it was very reassuring to me that Triinu is not doubtful of God’s love for her, and that her rationalization of her sexuality is always consistent with her idea of how the world works. Triinu’s philosophical musings were some of the most beautifully written and poetic parts of the book, and I really enjoyed following her on her journey.

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