Rebecca reviews Driving Lessons by Annameekee Hesik

Annameekee Hesik’s 2014 Driving Lessons is a cute and quick but also meaningful read. The novel follows teenager Abbey Brooks as she attempts to navigate her sophomore year at Gila High. Abbey’s journey is relatable, funny, and touching as she tries to get her driver’s license, survive high school, navigate the basketball court, come out to her mom, juggle friendship drama and relationship troubles as she tries to find a girlfriend. This book is a sequel and continues with characters who have already been introduced in a previous novel. I had no idea that this book was a sequel until I was already well into reading it. However, Hesik does a good job of ensuring that new readers can easily understand the characters’ history and this book can be read as a standalone.

Abbey is an extremely relatable character. But her actions can sometimes be frustrating. She is unfailing loyal to her unreliable and self-centred straight best friend, Kate, and she also has a penchant for keeping too many secrets. However, her reactions seem true to her character. The first-person narration is definitely faithful to that of a teenage girl. Abbey’s journey to fulfil her to-do list is a bumpy one filled with twists, turns, and several love interests. Things go disastrously wrong before they work out in time for a cute and happy ending which feels natural.

Although this book is definitely a Young Adult novel, its themes are applicable to readers of all ages and sexualities. Hesik examines the typical aspects associated with teenage life like sex, secret relationships, friendship troubles, and bullying. However, Hesik touches on other issues like dealing with the previous death of a parent (Abbey’s father died in a car accident and this ties in nicely with her reluctance to drive) as well as neglectful and homophobic parents. There are homophobic slurs as Abbey is bullied by classmate Nicky. However, their interactions take a surprising but organic turn (not quite what you may be thinking) as the book progresses. It is also refreshing that the characters are almost exclusively female and there is an abundance of lesbian characters with a few bisexual characters sprinkled in. However, the treatment of bisexual characters could have been handled better.

Abbey’s friends are a major part of the novel. They include ‘veteran’ you-know-who girls (cutesy code for lesbians which is somewhat endearing only because it is used so sparingly) like Tai, Mia, and Garrett (who is actually bisexual). These girls are well-written and seem very real as they support Abbey but they can also be secretive and self-serving. Abbey’s friendship with Kate is particularly relatable and the slow deterioration of their friendship is well-done. One of Abbey’s love interests, Devin, is deaf and her presence adds a nice touch of diversity to the novel. However, I would have liked to see some more characters of colour.

One of my favourite parts of this book is Abbey’s sweet and genuine relationship with her mom. Abbey’s mom is supportive while still being a very realistic parent. While Abbey’s eventual coming out is somewhat disastrous, her mom’s reaction is wonderful and it is great to read a novel where the protagonist’s mother is so openly understanding of not only her daughter’s identity but is also accommodating to her friends.

However, while many of the characters are well-crafted and memorable, there are too many of them. Therefore, there are too many side-plots that sometimes end abruptly or lack resolution. Kate’s drama with her partying and boyfriends overstays its welcome and Abbey’s mother’s return to dating are just two instances of too many plotlines in an already full book.

Annameekee Hesik’s Driving Lessons is a great and quick read. There is a lot going on in terms of plot and characters but, for the most part, Hesik handles the action well. I enjoyed this book and I look forward to more of Abbey’s adventures. If you’re looking for an easy but still meaningful read which features an almost exclusively female and lesbian cast of characters and a sweet and happy ending, you should definitely check out Driving Lessons.

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.

Rebecca reviews Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South edited by Connie Griffin

The 2015 non-fiction collection Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South edited by Connie Griffin is interesting and moving but sadly not very diverse. The book focuses on the coming out experiences of Southern lesbian, queer-identified, gay, and transgender people. The book’s unique title is inherently Southern. It comes from the chant that young Southerners use to spell Mississippi. These sixteen first-person essays chronicle experiences which range from both mundane and extraordinary to hopeful and devastating. These deeply personal narratives examine first love, gender identity and performance, homophobia, finally learning the language to describe themselves, belonging, and death.

The collection includes several noteworthy stories from lesbian perspectives. Stephanie Woolley-Larrea’s “Straight as Florida’s Turnpike” is an interesting and well-written narrative which recounts the author’s exploration of her identity and her journey to become a mother. She also recalls her search for a community and a sense of belonging. Woolley-Larrea’s relatable journey to understand her identity and sexuality even includes her unsuccessful attempts to adopt different lesbian personalities including ‘Nature Lesbian’ and ‘Activist Lesbian.’ In an endearing touch, the narrative includes the author’s conversation about marriage with her young triplets.

Susan L. Benton’s “The Other Side of the Net” is a unique and inspirational essay. She details her life as a sorority girl which is at first fulfilling and happy because she finally feels that she belongs. She even has a secret romance with a fellow sorority sister. However, Benton is soon outed and kicked out of her sorority. Despite these devastating setbacks, she emerges victorious in academia and on the sports field as she triumphs over her former sorority sisters in an important college volleyball match.

Another notable essay is Merril Mushroom’s informative and disturbing “The Gay Kids and the Johns Committee” which highlights the horrors experienced by lesbians and gay men in South Florida. She carefully captures the fear and hysteria during the late 1950s as she recalls how gay people were hounded. Mushroom recounts newspapers gleefully outing people and publicly revealing their personal information. The author deftly combines historical events with personal memories of the era as she also recollects her experiences of surviving during this dangerous time. She even briefly pretends to be straight to escape a detective who was seeking to expose gay people. She also remembers police officers harassing and arresting people at gay clubs and the gay beach. Mushroom’s essay is an unforgettable and important read. Although the incidents are horrifying, it is vital that readers learn about these tragedies and injustices.

While I did enjoy many of the narratives in this collection, I was extremely disappointed with the lack of narratives from people of colour. Although the book’s editor, Connie Griffin, briefly acknowledges the collection’s glaring lack of diversity, she does not really address it. While the essays do encompass a variety of experiences and readers of different backgrounds and sexualities may find elements to relate to, this collection is overwhelmingly white. Therefore, it misses the abundant opportunities to explore the rich intersections of sexuality, race and gender.

“Ben’s Eyes” by Louie Crew is the only piece which represents a gay African-American’s experience. This engaging and well-detailed narrative follows young Ernest Clay as he discovers his sexuality with his older cousin, Ben while at his grandmother’s house in Georgia. The essay provides an invaluable look into the lives of African-American people in the South. It also examines strong family dynamics and debunks negative stereotypes of Southern African-American people, especially with regards to homosexuality. However, this piece is written by a white man. Although Crew is Clay’s husband and the essay is sensitively written, it is sad that this collection’s only representation of black people has been presented to readers by a white man.

James Villanueva’s “The Gathering” is another notable essay which is well-crafted and intensely moving. The narrative focuses on a family party for a gay man who is dying of AIDS. Villanueva also recalls his own coming out journey and he examines the complexities of family, death, and identity. His interactions with his family and especially with his sick Tío Jacob are touching and optimistic. Villanueva’s piece is a little lengthy but it is not noticeable because his story is so rich and fascinating. The essay’s inclusion of aspects of the author’s Mexican culture is a welcome addition as it provides some much-needed variety in this collection.

Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South contains many original narratives which are poignant and eloquently written. While these essays do not hesitate to recall the loneliness and pain associated with being different and coming out, there are instances of optimism, love and acceptance. However, the book is not a casual or easy read. The essays are lengthy and quite dense because they confront heavy themes like death, identity, and religion. There are also instances of homophobia and violence so readers sensitive to these issues should be vigilant. While I did enjoy the collection, the lack of representation of and from people of colour was disturbing. The book claims to represent a cross-section of Southerners but the narratives are almost exclusively white. I would have liked to see a variety of experiences and voices.

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.  

Rebecca Cave reviews For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries by Fay Jacobs

Cover of For Frying Out Loud by Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs’ 2010 For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries is a hilarious, relatable and wonderfully quick read. The book is a collection of Jacobs’ columns from 2007 to 2010. Through these witty and concise columns, readers follow Jacobs’ life with her partner, Bonnie, and their ever-present Schnauzers in Rehoboth Beach, a small town in Delaware. Her writing also chronicles her travels throughout North America. There is also a healthy dose of political and social commentary as she examines some of the major events which occurred from 2007 to 2010, commenting on everything from the overzealous Vuvuzela trend to acerbically confronting General Peter Pace’s homophobic remarks about gay people in the military.

This book is undoubtedly of gay interest as Jacobs is an out and proud lesbian and she faithfully incorporates this part of her identity into almost every column. She also explores the big issues affecting the community like gay marriage, gay rights, and gay culture. She educates readers on aspects of gay history as she writes about important figures of the American LGBT movement like the late Barbara Gittings. She even dedicates a column to the Equality march. Her writings on these serious topics are not didactic or severe. Instead, with her signature brand of humour and casual writing style, Jacobs imbues her stories with empathy and personality while also educating readers on gay history. She honours the achievements of these departed pioneers and recounts her personal memories associated with these women. She also notes her own experiences at Equality marches, reminding readers of the sombre nature and history of these events but, at the same time, her writing is optimistic while also being appropriately and tastefully humorous.

Jacobs’ columns strike an even balance between the important and the ordinary as she also finds humour aplenty in chronicling everyday life. Her writings are chock-full of laugh-out-loud incidents. Her road trip mishap with the “bitch on the dashboard” (also known as the GPS Navigation System) who may or may not be out to get her and a cat meowing happy birthday to her over the phone are just some of her life stories which are too funny to be missed. The diverse range of subjects that she explores ensures that readers will always find something to relate to. Jacobs’ writing style is light and conversational, making her columns an easy read. Her language is simple and personal, deftly drawing readers into the madness that is her life. Most importantly, Jacobs exhibits a refreshing brand of humour which neatly avoids being mean-spirited or rude but which is good-naturedly funny and sincere.

For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries is divided into four sections with each division dedicated to a year’s worth of columns. Some of Jacobs’ more interesting 2007 columns focus on the culture of Rehoboth Beach (apparently, there’s an infamous Delaware State Fair Duck Drop), the difficulties of travel in a post 9/11 America, gay culture, and the struggle for equality for gay people. Notable highlights from her 2008 columns include numerous travel adventures like a memorable all-gay women cruise (which was as fantastic as it sounds) and Jacobs’ attempts at interacting with social media. 2009 finds Jacobs hilariously navigating Wii and Twitter and her misadventures in puppysitting. She even dedicates an informative segment to the fascinating and lengthy gay history of Rehoboth Beach. The book’s final section encompasses Jacobs’ 2010 columns. Some of these more memorable moments include Jacobs and the family being snowed in, a DIY home improvement project gone disastrously wrong and several RV trips filled with food, adventure, and a lot of laughs.

Fay Jacobs’ 2010 book For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries is a light and funny read. Although Jacobs’ earlier columns were written a decade ago and it may be tempting to see them as outdated, her writing is relatable and extremely applicable as many of the issues that she addresses have not gone away. Jacobs explores important LGBT issues and examines aspects of gay history while also finding the humour in everyday life. Her witty and unique sense of humour ensures that her columns are delightful reads. This book is perfect for readers who want to be both educated and entertained while enjoying an easy and good-naturedly funny read.

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.