Sunday, August 7, 2016
ARC Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
Title: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
Author: Jaye Robin Brown
Rating: 3 Stars
Release Date: August 30th, 2016
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is not a perfect book, not by any means. In fact, it is so full of plot holes and unnecessary dilemmas that I'm surprised I managed to get through it. But Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit shares some deeply important messages in a thoughtful manner that cannot be ignored--perhaps, especially, in wake of the Orlando tragedy. This is a story of a girl who has already come out to her friends and family in Atlanta but who is asked, by her father and new stepmother, to conceal her sexual identity in small-town Rome, Georgia where she moves for her senior year of high school. It's a ridiculous set-up because it hardly seems just that a father who supports his daughter regardless of her sexuality would ask her to change herself, but it brings up a host of fascinating points.
Firstly, Joanna finds that she doesn't mind being closeted. It's not quite true to herself, but in Rome no one stares at her for her outfits or for her lesbian best friend who flirts with every attractive woman she meets. In Rome she is invisible and as confusing as that is, it's also easier. It turns out that coming out isn't something that happens just once. We treat it that way and think about it as such but in reality, coming out means repeating yourself and re-introducing yourself to every community you find yourself a part of and hoping that they accept you. That if you meet their parents or grandparents that they accept you as well. It's a privilege that non-queer people take for granted and I appreciated that Brown called out the blatant heteronormative society we live in and how harmful that is to our own minds and to LGBTQIAP+ individuals around us.
This book calls for further suspension of belief since Joanna reveals her secret to a friend of hers whose parents are both lesbian but she can't trust the girl she falls in love with with the same secret. If Joanna had simply communicated better, half this novel would be unnecessary. But Joanna's journey to support a friend in coming out, making her own plan to come out again in Rome, and deal with telling the truth to the people she's become friends with is all such an important path. It's also important for her parents and those around to her to come to terms with her truth, even if they're re-coming to terms with it. Back in Atlanta, people always judged Joanna for her lesbian haircut and outfits and for once in her life, she's surrounding by people judging her for her character and then accepting other facets of her personality.
To add to the convoluted plot line, though, we have a hacker lesbian and a manipulative theater lesbian thrown into the mix. I don't feel great about the inclusion of these characters and their lack of depth but I did appreciate that the issues in this book were not resolved overnight and no matter how badly the plot was constructed, it was still dealt with in a realistic manner. What's more, in a strange way the fact that girlfriends can also be manipulative--not just boyfriends--and that girls can be just as jealous as boys can be is normalizing. In some way.
What I particularly loved about this book, though, were the relationships. Joanna's relationship with her stepmother evolved throughout the novel to a point where Mother #3 became "mom". Her anger with her father is realistic and festers throughout the story, even though her father has always accepted and supported her decisions. Joanna's new friendships, and especially her romance, are believable and heart-warming and full of swoon. It's just a shame that a host of such fabulous relationships must be against the backdrop of an unbelievable plot, but it works.
This book does a REALLY good job of discussing issues that plague queer teenagers and I'm a huge fan of the way that Brown approaches a lot of important topics. Unfortunately, this contains a terribly implausible plot line so if you're prepared to suspend your belief quite a bit, this is going to be a resounding hit. I'd definitely recommend this one, if only for its thoughtful nature, but it isn't stellar as a story by itself without the queer romance at its core.