Mars reviews Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen

Her Name In the Sky cover

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.

 

Elinor reviews A Fairytale of Possibilities by Kiki Archer

British wedding planner Lauren is in the business of making dreams come true for other people. But in her own life she’s been pining over her straight best friend Rachel since they were teenaged university students together. In their eleven years of friendship, Lauren has drifted from girlfriend to girlfriend every several months while nursing her secret crush. Rachel, meanwhile, married the boyfriend she met at university, had a son and became a stay at home mom, and was widowed. It’s been two years since her husband died and Rachel decides she’s ready to get back out there–possibly with women. After so many years of fantasizing, though, making Lauren’s dreams real isn’t as easy as the fairytale she’s had in mind.

Lauren and Rachel’s friendship is full of banter and flirtation from the first pages of the novel and has the shared language of long-time friends. The pair’s conversations hooked me and are just plain fun to read. It made sense to me that Lauren didn’t want to risk a friendship that fulfilled her in so many ways by making advances she thought would be rejected. It also made sense that Rachel had more complicated feelings for her friend than she’d previously explored.

The characters shine in this book. I really appreciated that Rachel’s son Parker behaved like an actual kid. Writing children can be tough and I’ve read a few romance novels featuring single moms in which the kids are placeholders. Not so here. Parker is his own character. Plus Lauren has her own loving relationship with Parker, another thing she doesn’t want to risk. Rachel is a devoted mom doing the right things: taking her son to a grief support group, keeping him connected to her in-laws, trying to determine what’s best for him as she considers what she wants. Other highlights include Lauren’s ridiculous, but ultimately helpful, assistant Trudy, and Lauren’s absurd clients, whose relationships offer some unexpected lessons in love. Though Rachel’s pestering brother-in-law is a cartoonish antagonist and could be much more nuanced, he keeps the story moving along.

The obstacles in the way of the relationship develop, and are resolved, organically. Lauren’s competitiveness and Rachel’s conflict avoidance pop up throughout, so when these cause problems, it makes sense.  I appreciated that Rachel doesn’t have an identity crisis about her interest in women and that it’s Lauren’s idealizing that throws many a wrench in things. I also liked that Rachel’s late husband isn’t an afterthought, and he and his accidental death have an impact throughout the novel. Near the end this involves a pretty intense conversation that neither main character handles well. I thought this made sense and that a romance involving a relatively recent widow is going to have some painful moments. Also, a friendship as intertwined as Lauren and Rachel’s will have clashing perspectives and hidden fears about shared grief. It might be heavier than some readers want, though, especially because the rest of the book is quite light and at times pretty silly. I liked the angst near the end but if you don’t want that, skim this conversation and skip ahead a bit.

Overall, Archer combines great dialogue, occasional low-brow humor, and hot sex for a fun read.  This is a great easy read for lesbian romance fans.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, out this month. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com