The B-Word: Julie Murphy’s RAMONA BLUE and Riley Redgate’s NOTEWORTHY

New novels by Julie Murphy and Riley Redgate, out this month, both tackle the oft-neglected B in LGBTQ.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy (Dumplin, 2015) knows a thing or two about navigating the worlds of girls on the brink of self-discovery. In Ramona Blue, that girl is Ramona Leroux, over six feet tall and sporting blue hair. She’s also one of only two out lesbians in her little town of Eulogy, Mississippi, where she lives with her father and sister in the FEMA trailer they never left after Hurricane Katrina. Her sister, Hattie, recently pregnant, jokes that Ramona can do whatever she wants with her future, but Ramona has no such illusions. “My sport—” she thinks, “the special skill I’ve developed my whole life—is surviving.”

Because of this pragmatism, Ramona has never doubted herself. It’s not easy being gay in Eulogy, but it’s a label she owns proudly, until her childhood friend Freddie moves back to town. Freddie’s a straight guy, African American, and well off, but a love of swimming connects the two. Freddie talks Ramona into spending time at the pool, and as she falls more in love with the sport, she realizes she’s falling in love with him, too, questioning everything she knows about herself—everything she’s fought to make her town and family accept. Murphy mines Ramona’s inner workings with particular skill. Ramona’s often-fraught relationships with her family are carefully, lovingly crafted, and her connection with Hattie is an especially important one. Her growing feelings for Freddie come slowly and organically, never seeming contrived. For many teens, Ramona will be a worthy companion as they undergo their own emotional journeys.

Noteworthy, by Riley Redgate (Seven Ways We Lie, 2016), features a girl who isn’t sure of anything at all. Jordan Sun is a junior at her performing-arts boarding school, but her low voice and Chinese features keep her from getting cast. Jordan’s on scholarship—her family struggles financially because of her disabled father’s medical bills—and her parents are overly invested in her success. So when she fails yet again to get cast, she considers other options. A spot has opened in the Sharpshooters, an elite all-male a cappella group. It’s college-application gold, so Jordan dresses up like a guy, borrows her cousin’s name, and auditions.

Noteworthy by Riley RedgateCrazier still, she gets in. Jordan Sun, contralto, becomes Julian Zhang, tenor, living a double life as she’s drawn into the world of the Sharpshooters and into what it’s like to be a boy. In some ways, pretending helps her become more sure of her identity: she’s questioned her sexuality before, but as she spends more time as Julian, it becomes increasingly clear that she’s bisexual. Conversely, as she grows more comfortable acting like a guy, the surer she is that she’s not actually a transgender boy: “I knew it innately. The struggle to fit into some narrow window of femininity didn’t exclude me from the club.” It’s a smart critique of gender roles—male and female—in today’s society (a particularly notable scene is one in which Jordan, as Julian, is told in no uncertain terms to “man up” by a respected teacher), and it’s all delightfully wrapped up in a fun, compelling package of high-school rivalries, confusing romances, and a classic Shakespearean case of mistaken identity.

There’s work to be done still, but books about LGBTQ teenagers are much more prevalent than they used to be. At the same time, that B in LGBTQ often gets lost. Ramona and Jordan are both girls grappling with their bisexuality in the face of a world that would be more comfortable, really, if they’d just pick a team and stick with it.

Bisexual erasure is a very real thing, in and out of the LGBTQ community, and literature that features the voices of bisexual characters is more important than ever. For Ramona, the discovery that being attracted to a boy doesn’t make her straight is an important one, and she faces pushback from all sides. For Jordan, it’s about discovering the separation between gender identity and sexual identity, and learning to accept who she is from all angles.

Both books are honest, poignant portraits of young women on the brink of tumultuous change, facing the harsh reality of a world that may not be too thrilled with who they are. Despite that, these bright, determined heroines possess singular voices that will be invaluable for new generations. Who you are may not be about the labels, but that doesn’t mean those labels don’t have value.



About the Author:

Maggie Reagan works for Booklist as an associate editor in the Books for Youth department. In addition to the required love of reading, she is also an adventure junkie, animal hugger, and stringed-instrument enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @MagdalenaRayGun.

Post a Comment