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Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by…

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit

by Jaye Robin Brown

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A quick, emotional read. Filled a void for WLW Southern Christian feels/experience in YA lit. An unapologetic portrayal of WLW, autistic characters, and affirming Christians, with a nod towards both interfaith and interracial relationships towards the end. I think I'm in the headspace for something much less angsty for my WLW media. But still, an enjoyable enough read.

(The book does deal with Christian homophobia, and contain homophobic and lesbophobic slurs.) ( )
  barelyamiable | Apr 6, 2017 |
It's Jo's senior year of high school, and she's in for a sudden change. Her father is on Wife No. 3 (or "Three," as Jo unaffectionately nicknames her), and the family is moving from big-city, gay-friendly Atlanta to smaller-town, homophobic Rome, Georgia. Jo can say goodbye to her life as an out lesbian; her father requests that she please "take it easy." Translation: Pretend to be straight. In his words, "Not be quite so in-your-face" (p. 14). He promises it will make life easier for everyone. Easier for Jo, because she won't face homophobic bullying. Easier for her father, who, as an evangelical radio pastor, won't have to face the shame drama of having a lesbian as a child. Rome is "where queer girls go to die" (p. 2).

Great premise for a book, no? The comedic tales of a slightly goth, very "alternative" openly lesbian teenager forced to play a heterosexual. A femmed-up girl with the right clothes, hair, and makeup. Well, it's not really comedic. And, as expected, it's thoroughly painful. Especially when Jo falls for a seemingly straight girl (who is obviously a lesbian). What should she do? She's promised her father. And, what's more, she's banking her hopes on building a radio show for Christian youth, and she wants to establish an audience before dropping the bomb that she's a lesbian.

Lots of drama, but no emotional turmoil. Jo has dilemmas, but her feelings feel flat, if at all existent. She's supposedly in love, but does she even care? She "tosses and turns" over her predicament, but it's hard to believe she has any deep romantic feelings.

And that's not all that rings false in the novel. Supposedly, Jo was easily, comfortably out at her old high school, but I don't buy it, because she does such a good job of staying closeted in Rome. She doesn't slip up about pronouns or crushes or when they're talking about boys. She fits in so easily with a group of popular Christian girls, I can't believe she was ever a goth. She used to have lots of friends in the "queer" scene but she's only ever mentioned one, her friend Dana (a "playah" who it seems consciously models her lifestyle after Shane of The L Word), until p. 362, when she suddenly has "a group of friends from my old school."

Jo claims that her father was absolutely 100% OK with her being a lesbian — it wasn't a big deal at all when she came out — but I'm not convinced.
My dad was already preaching sermons about tolerance and acceptance and all God's children long before I was even old enough to know what sexual attraction was, so coming out for me was a nonissue. It was pretty much 'Dad, I like girls' over dinner and him asking if I was sure and when I said yes, him telling me he loved me no matter what. (p. 263)
As a minister, he's one of the "good guys" — the representatives of the Baptist Church who give hope to lesbian couples, who make gay people and their allies feel there is a place for same-sex love in their religion. And yet, "The ministry isn't ready to be so definitive in its stand on issues of sexuality" (p. 334). Definitive being, You're not going to hell, maybe? What is his acceptance, if his approach is (as it seems to be) simply ignoring the existing of gays and lesbians? Don't ask, don't tell. Don't bring it up, and all will be well. He literally describes her past (i.e., out) self as "defensive," and says he "likes [Jo] like this." Straight-acting, dressed and made up like a "normal" girl. He says, "Maybe our new community has strengthened you in ways you could never experience while hanging out with Dana" (p. 357).

He's forcing her to lie about being gay, and he never once seems to consider her feelings. When he reflects, it's all about himself: "I don't want to be the man, or father, you painted a picture of" (p. 346). Notably not: "I don't want to hurt you."

Her new stepmother, Three, is no better. Here's her wishy-washy words of "support": "Is it a sin? I can't answer with a yes or no" (p. 317). Yes, they're truly at the front in the battle against homophobia.

A recurring theme throughout the novel is Jo's commitment to her faith and how she feels torn between her lesbian identity and her Christianity. She doesn't want to be ostracized by the "queer" kids for her love for Jesus; she doesn't want to fake-date boys around her Christian peers. But what faith? Jo doesn't talk about God, beyond a brief musing on the possibility of God being female there are zero specifics on what she believes, and so it's hard to see what this supposedly important element of her life actually means to her. Her radio show, though meant to speak to Christian youth, is so vague you can hardly tell it's supposed to be religious:

I wait a beat and then jump into our prepared talk about the holidays and consumerism and how really the season should be about holding those who are near to us dear." (p. 398)
Holidays? Season? Wouldn't a teen so committed to Jesus talk about Christmas? Literally anyone could host a radio show about treasuring one's friends and family. Where's the Christian — much less Baptist — angle?

So, ultimately, the novel felt incomplete. It would be a promising rough draft (even though I do, to be honest, hate the pretend-to-be-straight premise). But as a published book, it's lacking. The characters need to be fleshed out. There needs to be emotional depth. I'd like to see a deeper exploration of what internalized homophobia looks like, even in a lesbian who thinks she's got it all figured out. What homophobia looks like, beyond sermons of fire and brimstone. I'd like to see a more coherent character, a girl who visibly transitions from her life in Atlanta to her new life in Rome — and I don't mean the haircut and clothes, which is all you see here. I want to see Jo's frustration and anger, her joy in love. ( )
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062270982, Hardcover)

Joanna meets the perfect girl for her and must decide whether to break a promise that could change everything for her and her family or lose out on love in this charming young adult romance that’s perfect for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

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.

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 28 Jun 2016 17:58:06 -0400)

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