REVIEW: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Edit: I wanted to add to this review that several bisexual people don't feel represented or felt hurt by this book (for instance, amongst other things, by the lack of label for Ramona). Their opinion is not less valid than mine, and I encourage you to listen to them. I also wanted to say that there are some issues that I had not initially spotted. I still love this book a lot, but please be mindful of those things, and I encourage you to read about it (for instance Romie's or Chelsea's reviews, both really strong and nuanced voices)
I absolutely loved this book. It's the story of Ramona, a tall, blue-haired girl who lives in a trailer with her father, recently pregnant sister and her sister's boyfriend. She's struggling, with life, with love, with money, with family. She's real, and I love her.
Ramona identifies as lesbian when the book starts but gradually realises that maybe that's not a label that completely suits her anymore. I know that can be a dangerous thing, so I'll tackle that issue immediately. This is NOT a "lesbian cured by the right man" story. It's a beautiful, nuanced tale that shows sexuality is or can be fluid like it is for Ramona. This is made very obvious, for instance in the synopsis, which states: With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem. In several other places, the fact that Ramona still likes girls is confirmed, and the book directly challenges the "cured" idea: “‘For my mom, the world is black and white. If she knows I’m… dating a boy, she’ll think I’m ‘cured.’ And that you’re to thank.’ I shake my head. ‘But there’s nothing wrong with me.’”
So please, don't let the controversy keep you away from this absolutely wonderful story. I promise it's handled well and nuanced, and it's awesome.
There are so many things I love about this book, and many of those were present right away. We immediately know, without question, that Ramona is into girls. Murphy is extremely good at naming everyone's skin colour, so there's no reading between the lines, which is awesome, and it's also not awkward nor out of place. Ramona has a bike she frequently uses! She does so out of necessity, but I still felt a bit of myself represented in it, since I love biking. Apart from that, she develops a passion for swimming. We don't often see sports in YA, so this was a nice change. The book is very well-written and I saved so many quotes and conversations I'm getting lost in them. The friendships and interactions, a unique group of people who are all their own person.
Everything about it is real. The characters, their issues, the story, everything feels authentic. Teenagers are teenagers. A lot of the parents are present, some do a good job, some not at all. Teens drink, and love, and fight, and laugh, are loud and insecure, fighting for their place in the world. They are confused, do irresponsible things, and can get pregnant. It's not a rose painted picture of life, but that makes it so much stronger and all the more relatable.
It deals with a lot of important topics and issues and came over really strong in a couple of those.
One of them is poverty. This was the first YA book I've ever read with the main character that's struggling like this. Ramona lives in the trailer park. She bikes because they can't afford a car and works several jobs. She has some money saved and will without hesitation give it up for her sisters baby. The book did a spectacular job portraying how it is to live with less. How people, even friends, don't understand it. How much you have to miss out on. How deeply it affects your life, in big and small things, and your self-worth.
Another that was done incredibly well is family. It has an incredible sister relationship, full of struggles and love. Not only with Ramona her family and relationships within it were examined and discussed, but also with the other characters. Freddie. Ruth. Adam (who has two moms, by the way). It has a broad variety of types of families and relationships within them. Easy ones and hard ones, family members who cling to each other or not at all, supportive or unsupportive, and all those things are mentioned, discussed.
One of the absolute best things about this book that it is nuanced and intersectional and calls out everyone. There's room for feelings and opinions, but if you're wrong, bigoted or -phobic, you will get called out. The obvious cases, like when Ramona's mom does unresponsible things. And the nuanced ones, like how it's softly made clear that Ramona kissing a boy doesn't invalidate Ruth, even though Ruth might feel betrayed. Freddie, when he doesn't understand Ramona. He's ignorant, and sometimes ignorance is as dangerous as bigotry. Ramona, when she encourages Freddie to do something without realising or acknowledging that if something happens, he might get shot because he's black. The "heteronormative bullshit" of society. Slut shaming. Homophobia. Racism. Any and every sentence that's hurtful and small minded, that dehumanises people. Thank you, Julie Murphy, for giving us a book that does that. I love it.
This book is wonderful. It's real, it's hard, it's sometimes cute, it's very well-written, nuanced, and deals with intersections of sexuality, class and race.
“Maybe it’s not all the little labels that make us who we are. Maybe it’s about how all those labels interact with the world around us. It’s not that I’m gay. It’s that I’m gay in Eulogy, Mississippi. It’s not that I’m tall. It’s that I’m too tall for the trailer I live in. It’s not that I’m poor. It’s that I’m too poor to do and have everything I want.”
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