aroomofonesown

(a.k.a. Why all queer ladies should read A Room of One’s Own)

“For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.”

So ventures Virginia Woolf about midway through her 1928 essay A Room of One’s Own. She is just finally catching up to herself in the early 20th century, after conducting an informal survey of women’s history in print, when she proclaims that women must know whence their literary roots have sprung and grown: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn … for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” Each woman who writes blazes a trail for more women to immortalize their words in ink. Today, nearly a century after Virginia Woolf’s time, one would be hard-pressed to find an artistic medium upon which women have not made their mark.

Yet while reading Woolf’s account of women’s suppressed and all-around miserable lives in the centuries before hers, I couldn’t help but think of all the women who still cannot enjoy the freedom of writing 140-character tweets let alone manifestos, histories, criticisms, novels, poems, or journals and have a chance to define our world. I can’t help but think of the voiceless in our own community: the silenced queer women who, 86 years after Virginia Woolf and her Orlando, are not free to even consider embracing their identity let alone write about and therefore proclaim it to the rest of us. According to Woolf, it is our charge as women to first light the way so we may pass the torch; to lend our voices if we are able so others may create the masterpieces of our time. And that is why every queer woman should read A Room of One’s Own.

Here are a few topics/reasons/persuasive tools!

  1. Don’t be afraid of Virginia Woolf. This 114-page speech-turned-essay reads like a narrative, and a thrilling one at that. Woolf guides us with care through ideas large and daunting, and while the text hardly feels that way, the ideas surely resonate (and would no matter your particular experience with feminism, in my opinion). There is enough space here to challenge her ideas, but you will not want to pull yourself away. A Room of One’s Own will have you note taking, annotating, and by the end – poet or not – inspired to write.
  2. Androgyny. The “Androgynous Mind” is a super interesting concept, and one that’s been often debated for perpetuating gender binaries. Woolf suggests that writers must have an androgynous mind – both male and female – in order to create a work of truth. I think Woolf means that an androgynous mind is one that is not preoccupied with the concepts of “male” or “female” and not held back by the social conventions expected of either. An androgynous writer is free to explore the human condition from the standpoint of a human, devoid of what might make him/her a him or her. Woolf has said of masculinity and femininity: “The time has not yet come when we can say for certain which is the man and which the woman, after both have boarded the taxi of human personality.” In my opinion, we still haven’t. And according to Woolf, a great writer will not strive to find these differences either.
  3. Women who “like” women. Another fascinating topic Woolf brings forth is female relationships in literature. She ventures that she cannot think of any two women in the course of her reading that were friends, or enjoyed a relationship more complex than jealousy. Is this not true of both lit and life? We’re conditioned to view other women as competition, and we’re told this is an innate behavior stemming from our days discovering fires and banging in caves. Well, if it was necessity then, it certainly isn’t now. And by Woolf boldly stating, “The truth is, I like women. I like their unconventionality. I like their subtlety. I like their anonymity,” she is calling for not just an acceptance of women as friends, but an acceptance of all the complexities, depth, and love that exist in female relationships of all kinds. PREACH, Virginia.
  4. Judith Shakespeare. My favorite component of A Room of One’s Own – which, I’ll remind you, is very much steeped in prose – is the story of William Shakespeare’s imagined (but oh so real) sister, Judith. Woolf takes us on a journey with the fictitious Judith, as an exercise in understanding what life was like for women in the past, and why they didn’t/couldn’t write. Judith Shakespeare has a passion for writing but is prohibited by her father from all creative pursuits. When forced to wed against her will, she runs away to London where, turned away from the theatre that so readily embraced her brother, she commits suicide. What is most stirring and poignant about this short but meaningful supposition into the Elizabethan woman’s life is Woolf’s triumphant proclamation that Shakespeare’s Sister exists inside all of us. “She lives in you and me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed … She lives; for great poets do not die.”
  5. What is our own room? Woolf has also been criticized of classism in A Room of One’s Own by asserting that £500 and the titular “room of one’s own” are necessary for a woman to write. Again, I must beg to differ. Woolf is too self-aware to claim that without these luxuries a woman can’t/shouldn’t write. “Why did men drink wine and women water?” she asks, before taking us through a history of women’s societal and literary silencing, the crux being that women are not and have not ever been free – except in circumstances beyond their control – to enjoy the privileges of steady, self-made income and privacy. Even Jane Austen had to hide her manuscripts, which she wrote in her family’s sitting room. Woolf closes the essay by saying that for women “to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.” I contend that this room of one’s own is metaphorical, meaning mostly that women must have, as Woolf puts it, “the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”

As queer women, we must be aware of where our story began. In 1928, at the time of this publication, British author Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian-themed The Well of Loneliness was being decried as a ‘danger to the nation.’ Over the next century, queer literature has been consistently banned or contested, from Allen Ginsberg to Amy Sonnie. In response, we must read and honor all the words of our lesbian, bisexual, female-identifying, and queer sisters. Then, we must write our own.

The last few pages of A Room of One’s Own will have you absolutely soaring. This is a book that should be in every woman’s personal library as it is a fabulous introduction to our girl Virginia, a sweeping journey through centuries of women’s history and literature, and a call to arms for us women – all of Shakespeare’s sisters – to tell our story.

lumberjanes   orlando   thesummeriwasntme

AfterEllen posted The AfterEllen.com Book Club Choice for April Is…

Autostraddle posted Dear Queer Diary: Virginia Woolf Is My Homegirl and Ten Books For Queers And Feminists To Read This Spring.

LadyLike Book Club posted Episode 29 – Brought to You By These Sponsers.

Lambda Literary posted New in April: Tom Spanbauer, Emma Donoghue, Michael Nava, Bernardine Evaristo, and Ron J. Suresha.

genderfailure   hild   IVampire

Over the Rainbow Books posted March 2014.

queer book club posted What makes queer books “age inappropriate”?

Nicola Griffith was interviewed at To the Best of Our Knowledge.

Catherine Lundoff posted On LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1980s.

Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote were written about at The Province and Daily Xtra.

pluginpassion   frogmusic   dancehalldyke

“Vintage lesbian book covers” was posted at Plumsauce Productions.

Sunset Island by AJ Adaire was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Fervent Charity by Paulette Callen was reviewed Terry’s Lefic Reviews.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

The Girl with the Treasure Chest by Veronica Fearon was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

becauseofher   thisblue   holdmeforever

Hold Me Forever by D. Jackson Leigh was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

This Blue by Maureen N. McLane was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Because of Her by KE Payne was reviewed at The Fangirl.

See Right Through Me by LT Smith was reviewed at Planet of the Books.

Love Relived by Monique Thomas was reviewed at Loving Venus – Loving Mars.

Out In Africa: Same-Sex Desire in Sub-Saharan Literatures & Cultures by Chantal Zabus was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitter pageWe’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and tumblr.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee.

digitaldivide

This month’s book selection is Digital Divide by K.B. Spangler. Initially described as a kind of sci-fi mystery tale with a lesbian protagonist, I found that that, indeed was exactly what the book delivered.

Set in a near-future alternate Earth where several hundred people have been turned into, essentially, cyborgs in order to become ultimate weapons for the United States government, our protagonist is Rachel Peng, one of these first human-machine hybrids. Blind in real life, technology gives her the ability to see, not just in the visible light spectrum but in many other intriguing spectrums as well. The technology also allows them to ‘plug in’ to the internet, or any electronic device – they can hack into systems with nothing more than a thought.

Writing about this kind of thing can be tricky, because the writer runs the risk of a) using useless, dated jargon and skipping any kind of realism completely in order to make the tech more interesting or b) going too far into the mechanics of how such a theoretical system might actually work and turning their work of fiction into a dry treatise. Neither of these options is especially pleasurable for the reader. Spangler has, fortunately, walked the narrow line between these two extremes and delivered an adequate compromise.

I say adequate because it is just that. There are no groundbreaking new ideas here – it’s essentially basic human meets machine, which is something that’s already been covered by quite a few great science fiction writers. But though it’s a bit generic, it’s certainly not bad.

In terms of the plot itself, the story follows Rachel Peng, who works for the government and is attempting to prove to the world that she is not a scary cyborg monster but a real human being with real human emotions. Meanwhile a shadowy antagonist pulls several stunts in order to make the cyborgs look bad, so Rachel and her team must track him down and stop him, all while maintaining their image in the public eye. There are explosions and gunshots and sleuthing.

In terms of Rachel, our protagonist, she is a lesbian though it is not made a plot point. It is simply another aspect of her, like her hair color or shoe size. I find this refreshing to encounter in literature, and think it’s a good trend. Using a character’s sexual orientation as a cheap way to stereotype their personality, appearance, or behaviours, to turn a character into a caricature, is annoying at best and offensive at worst. However, through the course of this book Rachel is never romantically involved with anyone else; her feelings, at least in terms of sexual relationships, is never discussed. Which is fine. It’s not a love story, after all; it’s a sci-fi cop novel. Just be aware that if you’re looking for lesbian love, or romance, it’s not found in this book.

Overall, I found the writing engaging and the story complex and intriguing enough to keep me through to the end. It was nice to see a strong female lesbian character in fiction, especially in this genre. It’s a light read, something great for taking on the train or to the beach (for all you Northern Hemisphere denizens who are heading into summer.) If you’re a fan of science fiction, or police mystery novels, then I think you’ll enjoy this book!

heartsstarve

Hearts Starve, Patricia Russo’s haunting novel, is a story about loss. Not the act of losing, the reality of loss. People who have already lost things and must confront their doomed actuality. For such depressing subject matter, it’s still a beautiful and heart wrenching book.

Told as a dark, urban fairytale, the story follows three different people in various states of desperation. Marleen, arguably the story’s protagonist, lives with her wife and her wife’s dying father and feels more and more trapped in her situation. Corrie, an unemployed drifter, tries to turn her life around and finds obstacles at ever turn. Gil, the most unexplained character, barely exists in reality and tries to understand his own impulses and urges. All three are loosely linked by their dealings with two otherworldly brothers who seem to wreak havoc on anything they touch. One, a nameless man in a red coat, slips something into Marleen’s coat that permanently alters her reality and brings into Corrie’s orbit as they briefly try to help each other.

The fairy tale aspects of this story represent an interesting way for Russo to highlight each character’s loss. Here are three people who were already doomed before they were touched by the book’s fantasy elements. The unexplained chaos of the two brothers doesn’t help them or bring them any peace, if anything it just brings the desperation of their situations into sharper focus. It’s a good device but one Russo probably could have mined more from. She clearly knows a lot about this world, but, perhaps because of the darkness of each character, we don’t get to see much of it. Each character’s situation is unique, making hard to get a grasp on the rules of the world which probably would have brought the weight of understanding the end of the story. Regardless, the final scenes are still poignant and, days later, I’m still thinking about this book, which must mean Russo is doing something right.

DaughterOfMystery

Daughter of Mystery is a debut historical fantasy/romance by Heather Rose Jones set in the tiny, fictional European country of Alpennia in the early 19th century.

Baron Saveze of Alpennia has spent his life amassing a prodigious amount of wealth. A capricious man, Saveze has long kept a female duelist in his employ, despite it not being quite “the thing.” Barbara has spent many years serving as the Baron’s personal bodyguard and duelist, but the ailing Baron has–in her eyes–promised her freedom upon his death. Margerit Sovitre is the baron’s goddaughter, though connected only distantly and from a much more humble background. She’s being introduced to society and is expected to make an eligible marriage, but Margerit would much rather be studying philosophy at the university than finding a husband.

Upon the Baron’s death, Margerit suddenly finds herself in possession of a large fortune…and Barbara. Enraged that she’s been denied her freedom–at least until Margerit comes of age–Barbara nonetheless accepts the task of keeping her new employer safe. One person in particular, the new Baron, bears a grudge after inheriting nothing but the title from his uncle. When Margerit decides to pursue her mystical studies in the capital, there are unforeseen threats that even Barbara might find difficult to overcome.

It may sound strange to say that a fabricated country felt well-researched, but it’s clear that Jones did her homework in terms of crafting Alpennia from a combination of historical and fantastical detail. All the subtle pieces, down to the particularity of the names and their pronunciation, felt like they contributed to a vibrant and compelling whole. If you like women with swords, court intrigue, mysticism, interesting female characters, dashes of romance, scholarship, and family secrets, give Daughter of Mystery a try. Especially recommended for fans of Sherwood Smith.

I’m an avid reader of historical romance, particularly Regency and Georgian, and Daughter of Mystery had just the refreshing twist I’ve been looking for. News of a sequel in the works made me very happy indeed. See this post for more about how Jones approached her work.

southernsin   hild    missedher

Autostraddle posted Read A F*cking Book: Sometimes Being Bad Is Good In “Southern Sin”.

Lambda Literary posted What LGBT Book Saved Your Life?

The Outer Alliance posted Outer Alliance Podcast #40.

Ivan Coyote was interviewed at CWILA.

“Experimental Poetry and a Good Old-fashioned Mystery: Lesbian Staples to Live By” was posted at Huffington Post.

sistermine   Silver Moon by Lundoff   cominghome

All That Lies Within by Lynn Ames was reviewed at Les Books.

Coming Home by Lois Cloarec Hart was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff was reviewed at Bisexual Books.

Finding the Grain by Wynn Malone was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

farmersdaughter    haitiglass   midnightonamountaintop

The Farmer’s Daughter by Robbi McCoy was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Haiti Glass by Lenelle Moïse was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Midnight on a Mountaintop by Amy Dawson Robertson was reviewed at C-Spot Reviews.

ChaChing

Anyone who’s attempted to outrun her demons will attest that the endeavor is ultimately futile; however, it’s something that most of us have given a shot at some point in our lives. Would we have learned as much about ourselves had we done the “wise” thing and heeded the warnings of those around us? Could we understand the journeys of others as well as we now do had we just stayed put, waiting to see what unfolds? I’m guessing that your answer may be the same as mine.

Even if you’ve simply entertained the notion of escape, there’s a good chance that the story of Theo, the unlikely heroine of Cha-Ching! by Ali Liebegott, will resonate with you. On the cusp of thirty, Theo is convinced that if she leaves San Francisco to start over in New York, she will become the person who she wishes herself to be. She can see it so clearly — She wouldn’t drink, smoke or watch television; rather, she’d prove herself well-read, beginning with the complete works of Dostoyevsky and the biographies of legendary artists. Perhaps she’d even take a painting class, become an inventor and entrepreneur or read Crime and Punishment on the stationary bike at the gym. After all, she plans on getting a membership.

Moments before departing on her cross-country adventure, complete with her Butch Bathroom Wig to keep her from being hassled at truckstop restrooms given her gender ambiguity and military-style haircut, her destiny collides with that of another wounded soul — a pit bull who she names Cary Grant. Together the two of them embark upon a new life.

Arriving in New York, Theo does the best she is able with what she’s got, both in terms of internal and external resources. Not only does she have a small handful of cash in her pocket, an acquaintance to look up and enough charm to get by, but her alcoholism, problem gambling and loneliness have also come along for the ride. Although she makes a valiant effort to navigate her addictive tendencies, it isn’t long before she discovers that the addict within her is alive and well.

Although I was drawn to Theo from the start, I found her lack of jadedness somewhat disconcerting. Identifying as butch, Theo frequently refers to herself as a “timid sirma’amsir.” I had a hard time buying into the idea that she wouldn’t have adopted some sort of defense to safeguard her vulnerability; however, it is only while gambling that she endeavors to talk down her fear. In any other context, Theo possesses very little armor to protect her heart in spite of declaring a numbness that is betrayed by her rather frequent experience of emotion.

I also couldn’t let go of the fact that Theo’s reasons for wanting to flee San Francisco are never revealed. None of us make it through three decades without a story to tell, and I desperately wanted to learn of Theo’s history in order to understand more about the person who lived it. In passing, she makes a brief reference to arrests, lost girlfriends, a stint in a mental hospital and a “suicidal streak,” but there are no details provided and no mention of the catalyst for the move.

In spite of a few minor incongruities and the lack of backstory, I found myself unable to put Cha-Ching! down for a moment much less overnight and ended up reading it straight through — twice. What was the drive to keep reading? It wasn’t the quest for answers because there really are none to be found; rather, it was the desire to spend time with Theo in her world. After all, as familiar as I found her internal landscape to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if an understanding and acceptance of Theo just may allow us to extend the same humble courtesies to ourselves.

Lo_Adaptation_HC_600x900

 

I read Malinda Lo’s Ash and Huntress in the past, and though I enjoyed them, they didn’t stick out as favourites in my memory. So though Adaptation came out with lots of great reviews, and I picked up a copy soon after it was published, I didn’t actually get around to reading it until a couple days ago, after it was announced that Malinda Lo will be at Leakycon 2014. And I’m so glad I did pick it up, because Adaptation has easily become one of my new go-to books to recommend.

To get a sense of the experience of reading this book, check out the quick review I wrote immediately after finishing it on FY Lesbian Literature, the Lesbrary’s tumblr. Adaptation is just so exciting to read! Usually, I don’t go for plot-driven books as much as I gravitate towards character-based stories. But Adaptation‘s plot had me absolutely hooked. The book begins with Reese, the main character, waiting at an airport for a flight home, when birds begin dropping dead out of the sky. Immediately after, several planes are reported to have crashed because of mass bird strikes. But there’s more: coverage of the plane crashes seems to be disappearing from news sites, and conspiracy theorists begin talking about government involvement and cover-up. Panic spreads, and chaos erupts–including looting. This is all in the first chapter or two. With this abrupt lurch into action, the pace never seems to slow down. The feeling is so tense. I would pause between chapters to curse before jumping back into the story. This sci-fi, conspiracy-theory-laden storyline is something I think will appeal to dystopian fans, though it doesn’t quite fit under that umbrella. It’s definitely the plot that makes this such a memorable read, but it has more going for it as well.

For one thing, there’s the reason it’s on the Lesbrary: it has a bisexual main character! Reese has two love interests in Adaptation: her (male) debate partner that she’s known for years, and a girl she has only just met, but has an immediate attraction to. I wouldn’t call this a love triangle, because the two are never pit against each other. Although part of the tension of this book is emotional drama, it’s never over-the-top or contrived, and it always meshes well with the overall plot. Basically, Reese ponders her feelings during down time, but most of the time she has much more pressing concerns. And each love interest plays a very different role in Reese’s life, so their interactions don’t have the same tone to them.

The characters do feel well-rounded and believable, as well. From her on-again-off-again parents to her black, conspiracy-obsessed, gay best friend, to her Chinese-American debate partner, they all seem like they have their own back stories and motivation, even if they don’t get central stage in the story. I was so interested to pick up a bisexual sci-fi teen book, but this is actually how all books should be written: it’s diverse, but that’s not the whole story. You aren’t expected to pick up this book because it has a bisexual (though she doesn’t–yet?–identify with that term) main character; you’re expected to pick it up because the story will have you racing to get to the end. It feels so natural, which shouldn’t even need to be said.

The only complaint I have about Adaptation is that the third book in the trilogy isn’t out yet. I have ordered the second book and can’t wait to devour it. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough: after finishing it, I still had an adrenaline buzz for hours from how intense this book was. It’s almost embarrassing how into Adaptation I was while reading it. This is definitely one I’ll be pressing into people’s hands and demanding them to read.

SomethingIntheWine

Coming out stories are nothing new to the lesbian romance genre; and, if you are anything like me, you may approach such fictional accounts with a healthy dose of skepticism and relatively low expectations. After all, we’ve all been burned a time or two in attempting to invest ourselves in stories that ended up being clumsily crafted or just plain over-the-top. At last, I am pleased to offer my most heartfelt recommendation of Something in the Wine, one of the most skillfully written narratives of a woman’s coming to terms with her sexuality that I have encountered to date.

Annie Prideaux, senior accountant at Cargill & Jones, asks for little more out of life than to conduct her career successfully, enjoy her books and avoid the incessant barrage of practical jokes of her party-boy brother, Jake. In her thirty years, she has yet to figure out how to escape falling victim to his pranks; however, when he sets her up with Drew Corbin, an old college buddy who just so happens to be female, the two women devise a plan to teach Jake a lesson by convincing him that his matchmaking has worked so well that his straight-laced sister has fallen head-over-heels for Drew.

I’ll admit, the premise is a bit contrived and requires some suspension of disbelief, but the enjoyment of the novel is well worth the humble effort. Plus, who could resist Drew? Having taken over her family’s vineyard and winery, she produces exquisite varietals from the rolling hills of her lakeside estate. Her hands are stained with tannin, and her thighs are strong from tending the vines. She is smart, funny, patient, intuitive, a good listener and comfortable in her own skin. If I were to agree to a blind date, as Annie did, I could only pray that such a woman would be awaiting my arrival.

In the process of rehearsing the loving gestures intended for Jake’s benefit, Annie gradually becomes more at ease with proximity to Drew and a friendship based on mutual caring and respect develops between them. Just as Annie nurses Drew through illness, Drew encourages Annie to speak up, set boundaries and develop a healthier sense of herself. Although Annie is initially uncomfortable sharing emotion, Drew cultivates a sense of trust within their friendship that allows for the sharing of histories and the revealing of emotional wounds.

In spite of their best efforts, Jake doesn’t buy a bit of their charade. (Is their connection a charade or something more?) Thus, Annie and Drew set their sites on the Thanksgiving holiday, when Drew is to accompany Annie to her family’s celebration. Concluding that their affectionate rapport has been too subtle for Jake, they decide upon a more obvious approach, planning to bring Annie and Jake’s emotionally unavailable parents in on the joke. What transpires around the table sets the stage for what is by far the most satisfying scene of the novel.

Given that I’ve never been shy about my sexuality, Something in the Wine provided me with an understanding of the challenges that some women may face in the process of coming out. Annie’s discomfort with the feelings that arise within her, the anxiety she experiences on the cusp of closeness, her self-judgment and her fear of the judgement of others allowed me to grasp the gravity of reaching a point where hiding from one’s truth is no longer an option. The finesse with which Jae handles Annie’s inner-landscape illuminates a sensitivity within the author that contributes to the depth of the novel as a whole.

Something in the Wine is the entire package when it comes to romance. Drew and Annie became so real to me that I felt a tugging at my heartstrings at nearly every turn. The dialogue flowed naturally and believably; and, there was a consistency in the dynamics among the characters, accompanied by supporting nuances. The novel held my interest and kept me entertained while providing insight into experiences not my own. Last but certainly not least, the images of Drew Corbin’s stained hands and muscular thighs are sure to inspire my imagination long after the final page has been turned.

thesummeriwasntme

Before picking up The Summer I Wasn’t Me, I was in a bit of a reading slump. I just didn’t feel like reading anything. After reading the first couple sentences of this one, though, I was ready to give it a try. Instead, I read it in two days, impatiently waiting for when I could pick it up again. I have a soft spot for lesbian young adult novels, and part of that is because YA tends to be so easy to read. Despite the emotionally heavy subject matter, the writing makes this easy to fly through.

The Summer I Wasn’t Me is about an ex-gay camp (aka a “pray away the gay” camp). From this premise alone, I already knew it was likely to be very emotional. But just a handful of pages in, I already felt heartbroken for the main character, Lexi. Her father passed away six months ago, and since then her mother has retreated inside herself, leaving Lexi to take care of the both of them. When her mother discovers that Lexi is gay, she acts as if she has lost Lexi, too. Feeling like the only family she has left is slipping away from her, Lexi agrees to go to a camp to “fix” it.

The camp itself is jarring. It seems goofy at times (think But I’m a Cheerleader), but is in turn horrific and traumatizing. Both aspects seemed over-the-top in parts, until I realized that these things actually do happen. It may seem cartoonish for someone to claim that Harry Potter encourages satanism, but that is a claim that was actually made. And violence and abuse clashes with the comic aspect of these pink and blue play-acting exercises, except that abuse did happen in these camps. (I say “did” because I’m not sure how common these types of camps are anymore, after the disbandment of Exodus International.)

As for the characters, I loved the main characters. Lexi is very sympathetic, even though I want to shake her a lot. She spends most of the book questioning whether the ex-gay camp can work, and whether it’s a force of good or not. She seems naïve at times, but I guess that’s to be expected in this situation. She desperately wants to put her family back together, and she’s willing to overlook a lot to accomplish that. Matthew quickly becomes a close friend of Lexi’s, and he is loudly skeptical of everything about the program. He’s sarcastic and funny, but also pushes too hard sometimes. Absolutely believable and endearing. And then there’s Carolyn, Lexi’s love interest. Yes, Lexi walks into a “pray-away-the-gay” camp and immediately develops a crush on a pretty girl. I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity of putting a bunch of gay people together in order to make them not gay. If you couldn’t suppress liking girls surrounded by straight homophobes, how are you supposed to resist being surrounded by cute lesbians? Carolyn isn’t perhaps as well-developed as Lexi and Matthew, but you can see why Lexi’s fallen for her, and their interactions are adorable. The other characters, though, feel flat. They are assigned four people groups, and apart from Carolyn and Matthew, Lexi’s group also includes Daniel. Although Daniel gets a lot of page time, he never seems as interesting or well-rounded as the others. And the other characters don’t make much of an impression. I can’t help compare this book to The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which has an excellent, realistic depiction of a “gay conversion” camp. In Cameron Post, the people running these camps seem to have good intentions. You get to understand them, and they’re developed as fully as the main characters. This story just doesn’t do that. I wasn’t interested in the people in charge, and they seemed interchangeable for the most part. In some ways, I feel like this is a book meant to educate straight readers on this level of homophobia. I think most queer people are aware of ex-gay camps, but skimming the Goodreads review of this title brings up a lot of people who were horrified to learn that they exist. (For example, no, there is not any discussion of bisexuality in the novel. And there is also no acknowledgment that trans people exist, as they’re discussing the “true” nature of men and women. This is not just from the people running the camp, but also from Lexi herself.)

I have troubles settling my feelings for The Summer I Wasn’t Me, because it was a quick, easy read, that was usually enjoyable, but it also has some very dark, triggering scenes. [Trigger warnings that may also be spoilers, highlight to read: attempted sexual assault of a minor, violence, homophobia] It left me feeling muddled. But at the time of reading, I was absorbed. I found myself making faces at the book as I read it, frowning sympathetically and grinning in turn. And I was invested in Lexi’s journey, [spoilers] feeling sick as she resigned herself to a sham of a life, and cheering her on as she fights against that. [end spoilers] So I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that despite the easy-to-read writing style, and the goofiness of the camp, do be prepared for the narrative to face the actual consequences of the homophobia that goes into these institutions. At the same time, if you’ve reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post, don’t expect quite the same nuance from this story.

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