Mars reviews Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen

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It’s her last year of high school and Hannah Eaden is just trying to finish up her senior year with a smile before she and her tight-knit group of friends scatter across the country to go to college. While she’ll miss her little sister and her goofy boyfriend, the shy nerd with the kind smile, and the non-stereotypical quarterback, the one she’ll miss most of all is her best friend Baker, senior class president and the apple of everyone’s eye. Baker understands her; knows her quirks, has a secret dedicated playlist for her on her phone, and gets the kind of milkshake she knows Hannah likes because that’s just the kind of friend she is. With Baker being as sweet as a button, how could Hannah help but fall for her?

If I’ve made you think this story is all sunshine and rainbows and Catholic school without all of the intense moral discourse, think again. Desire versus faith, fear versus love, this story does not shy away from the dark edges of what happens when a lifetime of internalized dogma grapples with feelings that ache with honesty. While there are moments of levity as readers get to know Hannah, Baker, and their close friends (the self-declared Six-Pack), be warned that there are many moments when Quindlen goes for the jugular with your feelings.  

Late at night, after her parents and Joanie have already gone to sleep, she drives to City Park and sits in her car beneath the canopy of trees. She looks up at these trees and marvels at their existence, at how they just are what they were created to be, how they tower proudly on their wooden trunks, how they sway in the breeze and move their leaves like piano keys, and she prays that she can be like them, that she can innately grasp her existence and live it out without questioning.

Am I wrong? she asks. Just tell me if I am.

She never receives an answer.

The story is told from Hannah’s perspective, and we follow with clutched pearls as her year goes from good to worse to awful to actually surprisingly okay. There are moments when the author has your eyes racing across the page, and the characters themselves are as believable as they are compelling. Kids do reckless things, and characters act out of fear in ways that make you want to shake them (as they are wont to). The story of a deep love for a best friend slipping seamlessly into something more is as natural and timeless as gay ladies themselves.

At its essence, this story is a familiar one (my running notes were filled with #relatable) so I feel like it’s really important to state this part outright: it’s going to be okay. This is not going to be another one of Those Stories, and while the adults in this story are as flawed as grown-ups in real life, they are also just as redeeming.

Her Name in the Sky deals with a lot of fear and what I’ve been told is a lot of Catholic Guilt. This book isn’t necessarily for the light-hearted. While the author does a good job of starting us out with a playful and loving friend group, there are some really heavy moments as senior year marches on and the specter of prom draws closer. We are dealing with homosexuality in a very religious context, and the author never lets us lose sight of the fact that these characters are desperate as they grapple with reconciling their earnest faith with their desires.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you’re in the mood for a cry with a happy ending. The author also has an active tumblr which includes links to HNITS fanfiction, fan art, adorable original one-shots, and a free preview of the first three chapters.

 

Jess reviews Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp

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Despite the recent conservative controversy surrounding Vicky Beeching’s coming out, the Christian community is no stranger to revered spiritual musicians coming out. Jennifer Knapp’s memoir Facing The Music is a soul-searching, earnest examination of the Christian music scene and self discovery including her own coming out in 2010.

Knapp begins her life as a twin in a dysfunctional and divided household. As her parents were separated, she spent her youth navigating the complex conditions of custody, living predominantly with her father and step-mother and occasionally holidaying with her mother. Her first love is discovered and passionately explored as she teaches herself trumpet and becomes enamoured with music. Not being musical myself but living with a musician, I was enthralled in Knapp’s diligent and often demanding relationship with instruments. In fact, her first decision to learn an instrument comes at the direct expense of her limited time with her mum. Her passion continues as she breathes in instrument after instrument, ultimately leading her to study music teaching at college.

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After a period as a wild child, filled with sexual exploits and significant alcoholism (not explicitly explored), Knapp falls for the grace of God and begins to party Christian style; with worship music and religious conversation. Her account for her rise to Christian ‘rock-star’ status is told passively, as though everything just happened around her; her own involvement often reluctant and riddled with self-doubt. I feel this early Christian experience is written through the lens of a changed woman and wonder about the difference in explanation if one had been able to be transcribed at the time. Yet, this is how all memoirs are written; by the hands of current understanding, so I need not fault Knapp for that.

As a Christian myself, I recognised many of the evangelical experiences Knapp described and would advise non-Christian readers not to be put off by this inside look at the Contemporary Christian music scene. Her insights are often darkly described, almost in despising tones and I think Christians will have a harder time processing Knapp’s truths then non-religious individuals.

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Two thirds into Facing The Music, Knapp addresses her sexuality, her withdrawal from the Christian music scene and life as she knows it. She isn’t one to kiss and tell, so if you are hoping for long paragraphs of lesbian liaisons, this isn’t the love story for you. Instead, she recounts her internal coming out experience and the feelings associated with identifying as both gay and Christian, both personally and within the public  eye.

Knapp’s memoir is also littered with unexpected interesting insights, including her involvement with signing Katy Perry as well as adventures in outback Australia.

Personally, I strongly related to her difficulty fitting into certain circles in Christian churches, wearing cargo pants instead of skirts at church services. I also understood her difficulty with self-acceptance and the shame often associated with sharing an experience that strays from the acceptable testimony within church circles. I applaud her personal strength and faith to share her own story and to take her own time to do so.

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Facing The Music is written with honesty, integrity and emotion and will likely captivate fans, memoir readers, Christians and the questioning masses.

For those who enjoy Jennifer Knapp’s memoir, I would strongly recommend Chely Wright’s memoir Like Me, which explores coming out within the conservative country music world. You can also view the documentary Wish Me Away which follows Chely before and after coming out.

If you are looking for music to listen to while reading, Jennifer Knapp’s new album Set Me Free (released by Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records) is just out.

Guest Lesbrarian: Heather

We’ve got another Guest Lesbrarian today: Heather. She’s reviewing Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a lesbian classic.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson

I only recently discovered GoodReads (I know, it’s like I’ve been living under a rock!), and I’ve been reading lots of their lists.  It occurred to me that perhaps as a good lesbian I should try reading more gay fiction.  I’ve read some, of course (including Stone Butch Blues, which I shared a little bit about in my last Top Ten Post)  But really,  if I don’t want to have to give back my toaster oven I should have a passing knowledge of important works in the GLBT genre.

With that in mind I ordered Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.  It is really a roman a clef of the author’s early years in Northern England.  The main character, Jeanette, is the adopted daughter of a fundamentalist Christian couple. Her mother adopted her in order to raise her up to give to the Lord as a missionary for His cause.  From early days, however, Jeanette shows that she is her own person and will not be forced into someone else’s ideas about what she should be.  As she grows up, she becomes  more and more rebellious-and she falls in love.  With a GIRL!  Let’s just say that her relationship with her mother really starts to go downhill after the failed exorcism…that’s right, they tried to exorcise the gay right out of her!

Winterson has a dry, witty sense of humor that makes what could be a tragic story of betrayal and loss into something altogether more powerful.  At not one point in the story did Jeanette doubt that God meant her to be the way she was.  The people in her church loved her, thought she had a calling to preaching and missionary work-until they found out she was gay.  Suddenly, the leadership decided that maybe women were getting above their true place in the church, and should no longer be allowed to preach.  Apparently Jeanette’s love for Katy convinced them that she was trying to be a man.  But not once did Jeanette waver in her belief that what she was and how she felt was as natural as loving the Lord, which she did with fervor.  Usually reading about religious fundamentalists makes me a little twitchy, but Winterson handled them in such a way that while I completely disagree with almost everything about the way they view life and God, I couldn’t help but accept and respect their humanity.  Jeanette says, at one point in the book, that she loved the Lord-it was some of his followers that she had problems with. She eventually finds her way out of the insular world she was raised in, first through her prodigious imagination, and finally by physically moving to the big city.  But she can’t completely leave behind her mother and her religious fervor.  The book concludes with Jeanette going home for Christmas to find her mother perched by the ham radio, networking with other born-again Christians for prayer, support, and most of all the conversion of the rest of us Godless souls.  Despite the new life Jeanette has found for herself, it is almost like she is comforted somehow by the idea that while she is off in the world, her mother stays behind, fighting other people’s demons one prayer request at a time.  I guess this is probably true of all of us.  No matter how much we may try to separate ourselves from where we come from, the fact remains that we carry those people and experiences around with us into every new town, new job, or new relationship that we have.

Thanks, Heather! I adore Jeanette Winterson, it’s good to see her getting some reviews. If you want to check out Heather’s book blog, it’s Book Addict’s Book Reviews.

Have you read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit or another Jeanette Winterson book? What did you think of it?

I’m always looking for more guest posts! If you’ve read a lesbrary (woman-loving-woman book) lately, go to the Guest Lesbrarians link and submit a review!