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.

 

Rachel reviews Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen

her-name-in-the-sky

You know a novel is well-written if you find yourself sucked into the story, feeling every single emotion the characters are feeling, and either moving you to tears or making you smile without realizing. Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen, a YA lesbian romance, is precisely that kind of book, and what makes it even more impressive is it is Quindlen’s first lesbian novel, and she packed it with so many of the real feelings and real agonies that lesbians first coming out to themselves often face.

In the spring of 2012, seventeen-year-old Hannah Eaden is in her final months of high school, working to pass her exams and choose the right college. She has a strong network of friends, including her best friend, Baker Hadley. The girls know each other so well and do pretty much everything together. Along with Hannah’s sister and three male friends, the group, known as “Six-Pack”, is inseparable. But Hannah begins to realize her love for Baker is more than the love of a friend, and Baker too, seems to be feeling the same way. They try to deny their feelings, but one night during spring break changes everything. Brought up by their school, community, and religion to believe their feelings are sinful and unnatural, Hannah and Baker retreat inside themselves, trying to make their love for each other go away and learn to live a “normal” life. But these feelings will not be quelled, leading to an extremely emotional yet enlightening journey towards acceptance.

Her Name in the Sky is one of the best novels I’ve read that covers the day-by-day thoughts and experiences of a teenage girl dealing with learning her sexuality. Hannah is a highly relatable character, with her doubt, her pleas to God to “make it go away”, and suffering both happiness and guilt from her love for Baker. Her story reflects that of millions of other lesbians who first react negatively upon realizing their sexuality and the terror of their entire lives being uprooted by the knowledge. As my first reaction to my own sexuality was shame and horror, many of the things she thought or said resonated with me. As a result, the novel reached much deeper than any of the others I’ve read. Still, I believe anyone can get immersed in this book whether they had similar experiences or not. Quindlen is honest and to-the-point in her story.

The setting of the novel was another very interesting aspect. Hannah lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attends a devout Catholic school. Quindlen’s descriptions of Mardi Gras celebrations, Easter Mass, action-packed vacations and proms give a very good idea of the community Hannah and Baker live in, their standing in school and social circles, their friends and relationships, pretty much their entire world.

Quindlen also was great with showing people’s varying reactions to homosexuality, some being kind and others outright violent. One of Hannah’s teachers, Ms. Carpenter, is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is compassionate and easy-going, yet will not shy away from letting someone know they are being cruel and are potentially hurting another person. Out of all the characters, she is one of the most sympathetic and open-minded.

Her Name in the Sky is a masterpiece. However, people looking for a light-hearted story might want to save this novel for another time. It’s deeply intense and emotionally exhausting. But these raw and genuine feelings are what make this book so wonderful.