Rachel reviews Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg

Sylvia Brownrigg delivers a beautifully done, complex novel, Pages For You. The novel follows the life of seventeen year old Flannery Jansen as she begins her first semester in a campus college. Just learning about life and naïve about love, Flannery meets twenty-eight year old graduate student Anne Arden, a more experienced, and hardened by life woman. Flannery is immediately attracted to this enigmatic young woman, and realizes that she must be gay. After some rocky starts, Flannery and Anne become lovers, where Anne teaches Flannery some real life lessons. Flannery goes along in a happy, romantic existence for a while, until she and Anne become more distant as it becomes clear Anne is hiding something. And then a shocking revelation leads to the devastation of first love and loss, where Flannery must learn to stand on her own, using all the good Anne has taught her.

Pages For You is told with a great eye for detail. The way Brownrigg describes the seasons and campus give a New-England feel to the story, which makes it a bit charming. The characters are real and complex, as all humans are. Flannery is a likeable young woman with her questions on life and her realization about her sexuality. She starts out very quiet and shy, but as the novel progresses she becomes more self-assured.

There were a few things about the novel that didn’t sit right though. Mostly it was the relationship between Anne and Flannery, and Anne herself. All through the book, the differences between naïve Flannery and fiery Anne clashed in a way that made it hard to believe they would ever love each other. And they never seemed to share an equal partnership. Anne seemed throughout the novel to be the one “in charge”; making all the decisions and sometimes treating Flannery like a child. And while Flannery was open to talking about her past, Anne didn’t reveal enough about herself, and of course there was the secret that she hid from Flannery until the young woman stumbled upon it one day.

Anne Arden was not a likeable character. She was too blunt, and said hurtful things sometimes, belittling Flannery. She seemed cold and distant, and I found it hard to care about her. It was clear that Anne was not really serious about Flannery, and her later actions made her even less likeable. I found her to be quite selfish, and felt that Flannery deserved a lot better. It was a relief that their relationship ended, as it never felt like a real relationship to me.

Pages For You is well written and a story of first love a lot can relate to. But for someone looking for a novel with partners who respect each other equally, and do not hide things from each other, then this is, I’m afraid, not the book to read.

Lesbrary Sneak Peek: More New Arrivals!

I’m sorry that I haven’t been updating as much this week. I’m taking some pretty intense courses for the next month and a half (Economics?!), so I’ll probably only be posting once or twice a week. Please send in some guest reviews if you’d like to see the Lesbrary update more!

I have gotten a pile of books in the mail this past week and a half, but I’ll start with one I’ve already mentioned: Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg. This book was on the General Recommendations post, but I just bought a new copy; the first time I read it, I got it from the library. I’ve told you why I liked it, but here’s what it’s about: Pages for You follows the narrator, a 17-year-old woman, who falls in love with a teaching assistant 11 years older than her. The title refers to the narrator’s question, “What would happen if I wrote some pages for you? Each day a page…” If you’re wondering why I’m including a book I’ve already read and mentioned on the Lesbrary in a Sneak Peek, it’s because I plan to re-read it and give it its own review at some point (as with all the lesbian books I’ve read but haven’t reviewed).

Get Pages for You from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

I got two others about a week ago through Bookmooch. The first is Stage Fright by Ellen Hart. It’s book three in the Jane Lawless mystery series, but I’m hoping that won’t matter. This book involves investigating a murder of an actor at a theater. A description of the book says she has an “uninhibited crony” named Cordelia who helps her. I’ve still never read a lesbian mystery, though I have access to them, but I’m excited about starting!

Get the Jane Lawless series from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

The next book I got was, embarrassingly, a repeat. It’s called Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn, and it’s book one of the Chronicles of Tornor. I guess I didn’t take it off my wishlist on Bookmooch the first time I got it, so I mooched it again, and now I have a big hardcover ex-library copy and a little slightly beat-up paperback copy. Which do you think I should keep? Watchtower is a fantasy novel about a prince defending a kingdom, but it’s also supposed to have quite a few gay and lesbian characters, both as main characters and as background characters. This seems to have gotten a lot of mixed reviews, so I’m curious to see what it’s like.

Get Watchtower from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Have you read Pages for You, the Jane Lawless series, or the Chronicles of Tornor? What did you think of it/them?

General Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with Lesbrary (queer women) reading, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first Lesbrary book you read. If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. Once upon a time, any books that had queer content had to demonstrate that they were not actually advocating for queerness, so they had to either go straight, die, or go crazy. Often a combination of these three. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgendered, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Teen

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia BrownriggPages for You

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumoured to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.

Memoirs/Biographies

1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully). Just click on Guest Lesbrarians at the top.

Thanks for reading!