Published on August 30, 2016 by HarperTeen
[This book was given to me by the Publisher, this has in no way affected my opinion.]
Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.This book you guys, it was so so good, fluffy and everything I want from a contemporary read. I read, and loved, Brown's debut so it was a non-brainier that I would read her sophomore novel, it was a bonus when I found out it was going to have a lesbian main character AND a cute f/f romance, I was so in for this.
Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?
Jo starts the story seeming to have everything figured out, at least for a teenage girl, she has her group of friends, where she is out and accepted but when her fathers marries again she has to promise to her dad that she will pretend to not be gay and open on her senior year of a very small, southern city. Jo having to change her exterior to pretend something really trows her into a discovery journey and she finds a lot about herself while at it, it seems a bit weird right, but while pretending she needs to let go a lot of her comfort zones and try to do different things than what she is used to, letting herself find out more about herself.
A good part of this self discovery journey of Jo involve her new group of friends, B.T.B. and a few girls from her church and high school. I first want to say how much I enjoyed Jo and B.T.B friendship, he is introduced to her as she comes to school, to show her around and they instantly bound exchanging facts about elephants, B.T.B. biggest passion - he's part of a class for special kids on their school and most of the kids from church and school talk to him, the way that he fits into this community is show in a very positive and supportive light, I really appreciated that.
Her new group of girlfriends is very different from the ones she was used, first of all they are straight (or at least that is what seems) and think Jo is too, so that leads to some funny/awkward conversations, but the more Jo gets to know them more she realizes that having girlfriends to do pajama and dance parties, friends that share her belief on religion are actually a good thing. Not to say that her friends from Atlanta aren't important, her best friend Dana is a present figure of the story and I was a bit wary at first, because she seems to be bad news, but they work together, have each others back and have fun, which is basically what you need on your friends.
But back to her friends of Rome, her new town, there is a special friend in that group that is Mary Carlson, she is B,T.B. sister and Jo has an instant crush on her, which only turns harder to contain when they become friends. At the start of their interactions I was giggling a lot because Jo keeps re-passing their conversations and their touches, and it was just like with any other friend? Was it not? And if it's not what the hell does that mean? It was all very feelsy and it give each of their interactions and little touches much more meaning, I can't say much more about the romance without spoiling it but I do warm you, that it does contain drama, not over the top but there is teenager angst, but it was still fluffy and fun and my favorite part of the story probably.
My second favorite part was the family dynamics. At the start things are kind of strained between Jo and her father and stepmother because their marriage made Jo move and hide who she was, there was a few moments where I got teary because I can't imagine how hard it must be to hard it must be to the entire LGBTQ+ community that has to face this sort of prejudice every day. I liked that through the book we get to know Three/Elizabeth and actually see her not just a stepmother, but as a possibly friend and even maternal figure that Jo didn't had for a very long time on her life. It was good to see this small, new family coming together and really trying to work things out to become a family, things don't start out great, but the three of them care about each other (or at learn to care about each other) and in the end of the day the best you can do is try to make things better for those you love.
Last, but definitely not least, the religious aspect of this novel was really good, I'm not part of any formal religion or religious community but it was great to read about Jo's faith, how her father being a reverend affected her and to see how it can be a amazing place to find yourself support - of course, there is the ugly too, not everyone is accepting and loving of a (or multiples) lesbian girls, but the biggest message is that you can find faith and be yourself at the same time. I specially liked Jo's idea for a youth radio program, on her fathers church, it's a great idea to propagate messages that will be directed to young people so that they can find support and acceptance while maintaining their faith.
Phew, I don't know if I ever wrote such a long review, at first I didn't even knew if I would be able to say much about this book but it seems the opposite actually. I really enjoyed reading this and would recommend it to everyone, especially readers that are looking for a positive light on sexuality and religion working together and those who loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (so basically everyone, as I said before).