Danika reviews Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow


The last time I kissed Rachel Greenstein we lay in the bed of Scarlett, my Ford pickup, watching the sun sink beyond West Lake.

From this very first sentence, you can already tell this is not going to start on a happy note. Starting From Here follows Colby during a time of crisis in her life. Her mother died two years ago, her dad is away long-distance trucking six days of the week, she’s failing Chemistry (and maybe Algebra), and her almost-girlfriend just broke up with her. Rachel’s breakup with Colby brings all of her abandonment issues to the surface. When she finds a stray by the side of the road, she decides to take him in [minor spoilers, highlight to read] but in trying to coax the dog to her, he shies away and gets hit by a car. And then has to have a leg amputated. Did I mention this book starts off bleak? [end spoilers] Colby is very likeable. She is funny and kind most of the time, and has a close relationship with her (gay) best friend, Van. She socializes mostly in her school’s Rainbow Alliance, but underneath this is a nagging loneliness in coming home to an empty trailer.

I really sympathized with Colby, even when she wallows in her sadness or lashes out at people. She struggles between wanting to tell her dad that she needs him and at the same time tries to be strong for him, and because that’s what her mom asked her to do. She struggles to come out to him. She pours her love and attention into Mo, her new dog, and tries her best to manage the responsibility of a pet while working and going to school and raising herself. [mild spoilers] Even when she finds another relationship–which is oh-so-cute–she can’t help but see everything and everyone as a threat to herself. She begins to withdraw from her life, even the people who love her. [end spoilers] 

The book is easy to read, the characters are well-rounded and loveable, and the dog is so cute! Ah, I’m a sucker for a dog story. But it really is about a dark spot in Colby’s life, and even though it’s written with humor, it can be a little heart-wrenching at times. I’ll admit, I cried. A couple of times. Again, dog stories! They get me! [spoilers] Don’t worry, the dog doesn’t die. [end spoilers] I read Starting From Here in a day, hooked on Colby’s roller coaster of a story, cheering her on and chastising her in turn. Colby makes a lot of mistakes, but you can feel her pain coming off the page, so I couldn’t help forgiving her, especially as she takes responsibility for them. Buckle in for a lot of angst if you pick this one up, but I definitely think it’s worth it. (Especially if you’re a dog person!) Starting From Here is definitely now on my list of favorite teen lesbian books, and one I would happily recommend.