by Julie Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Ramona lives in a small vacation town in Mississippi, not far from New Orleans. When she was little, Hurricane Katrina ripped through and destroyed their already-precarious lives, splitting up her parents and sending her, her sister Hattie, and their father into a FEMA trailer. Her mother, who had gotten pregnant with Hattie at 15, gradually dropped out of the picture. When Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie moves back to town, her attraction to him makes her question whether she’s really gay or not. I was sold this one on the issue of bisexual erasure, which is a thing. Curiously, much more is made of Ramona’s questioning her sexuality than her relationship with Freddie, who is black. Although in one particular scene, Ramona and her friends trespass into someone’s backyard to use their pool and Freddie has to spell it out to her that while it seemed like a foolish prank to them, it could have been life and death for him.
Meanwhile, Hattie, who is maybe 20, gets pregnant and Ramona is very torn between needing to help her sister raise the baby and believing she can pursue a future of her own that includes community college on a swimming scholarship. The baby’s father, Tyler, moves into their trailer for a bit before insulting Ramona and getting tossed out by Hattie, but they later make amends. One of the things I really found interesting to ponder was the fact that their family, though barely making ends meet with three working (semi-)adults, had not always been that way, and had once been used to a slightly more comfortable lifestyle before the hurricane took that away, and how hard that must have been. This is not your typical poor girl story.
I found the dynamics of their small southern town interesting. Maybe it’s my Yankee background, but I had a hard time believing that Ramona showing up to prom with a girl, even another (the other) known lesbian in town, went largely ignored. (The school librarian was the hero in that scenario, which I love.) Ramona and Hattie both work at a local restaurant with Ruth (the other lesbian – she and Ramona are not dating) and Ruth’s brother Saul (also gay). I also had a hard time believing that her dating a black guy went even more largely ignored. If my perception of small southern towns is wrong, then great! But things wrapped up pretty neatly in that arena and others in a way that made me a bit suspicious.
There were many subtle themes that I enjoyed, like that Ramona is very tall – too tall for their trailer – and feeling physically and emotionally like she doesn’t fit. Murphy has a knack for not hitting you over the head with her insights, but letting them trickle down gently and be moving when you’re least expecting them.
Reminds me of the movie Kissing Jessica Stein, a bit (mostly in the bisexuality question part).