Leah CL’s mother used to say the world could end around her while she was reading and she wouldn’t even notice. She loves children’s lit, particularly middle grade fiction, and is sure she’ll get around to writing her own…one of these days. Leah has a degree in journalism and a degree in music, so logically she is currently working as a bookseller. She lives in Vancouver but considers herself a Maritimer for life.
A Review of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, by Jaye Robin Brown
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published Aug. 30th, 2016 by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins
Over the years, I’ve lost patience with heterosexual teen romance novels. (If we’re being honest, I never had much patience for them to start with). We all know the story: girl meets boy, girl dislikes boy to start with, girl ends up realizing boy is best thing that ever happened to her and making out with him in a vaguely plot-significant way.
Well, here’s a story you won’t know:
Girl moves to present-day but still bigoted Southern United States. Girl has to pass as straight – something that doesn’t exactly come easily to her confirmed gay heart. Girl meets other girl (at Sunday school, no less). But wait. Other girl may not be straight either?
Add in a supportive single dad, personal faith and religion portrayed in a non-threatening light, and a cast of confident female and queer characters, and you’ve got Jaye Robin Brown’s sophomore novel, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit. Brown didn’t rely on any tropes to do the writing for her: the plot was as refreshing as the titular fruit, and kept me guessing right up to the end.
One thing I didn’t have to guess at: main character Jo’s sexuality. The cover flap drops the “gay” bomb two sentences in, and Jo makes it clear she’s comfortable with many labels, including queer and lesbian. While I don’t deny it’s important to tell coming-out stories, I think the “questioning” portion of the LGBTQ+ acronym normally gets more attention in teen lit than it may deserve. Despite having to spend much of the book pretending to be straight, Jo is confident in her sexuality: she aspires to use her position as a radio preacher’s daughter to reach out to other queer Christian youth, and she isn’t happy with having to hide her real self in small-town Georgia. Her relief when she finally gets to admit her sexuality to her new friends and family is sweet, and real. It was also akin to my relief at getting to read a teen book with an openly gay female character.
What really hit me most about Georgia Peaches was what a fun, positive read it was. Sure, there was tension: would Jo’s dad figure out how to balance new conservative in-laws with his out and proud kid? Most importantly, would Jo get the girl? But family drama and cute high school lovers’ spats are light and bubbly compared to the kind of heavy topics usually covered in queer young adult literature. Some such topics are valid: issues like bullying and suicidal thoughts are, sadly, a reality of many queer teens’ experiences. However, tropes like Dead Lesbian Syndrome also dominate media involving one or more queer female characters. Even if a queer female character does remain alive at the end of a book or TV show or movie, that doesn’t mean she gets a happy ending, and it certainly doesn’t mean she gets a happy ending in a healthy relationship with another woman.
Happily, these days more and more teen books are featuring, and even focusing on, positive male homosexual romances. Less happily, I had yet to see that trend carry over to queer female characters – until now. Sure, one book doth not a trend make. But at my most optimistic, I would say Georgia Peaches might be the vanguard of a new wave of queer female romance lit – the one we’ve all been waiting for.