The draw of storytelling, the connection of a shared identity…
Janet and Abby have a lot in common, despite being separated by more than sixty years. Their worlds, for all the similarities between them, are also vastly differently. 1955 is, for members of the LGBT+ community, nothing like they are in Abby’s 2017 and yet, maybe, not so different as you might think.
The dual perspectives, interspersed with selections from novels written by Janet, Abby, and lesbian pulp authors within Robin Talley’s world, spell out a story that is as engaging as it is terrifying, as hard to put down as it is heartbreaking.
Published: 13 November 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Category: Historical Fiction/Young Adult/LGBT+
In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.
Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.
In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.
Rating: 5 Stars
Content warning: homophobia, racism, moments of intensity/discomfort (please read last paragraph of review for further information)
Janet and Abby were interesting characters. Their voices were strong separate from each other, in their own timelines, while still being complimentary of each other. The things that reached across the years, whether it was one of the books or authors or something that is a spoiler, were well crafted by Robin Talley. She kept up the interconnections in a way that would’ve been difficult in less skilled hands and I applauded her keeping the story together and weaving it so well.
What I Liked
I preferred Janet’s perspective a bit more because Abby’s perspective was a bit more familiar to me, modern as it was and much closer to my own experience. Janet’s perspective offered, on the other hand, insight into a time that I haven’t often read about. The 1950’s were a terrifying time for people considered “other” by those in power (read: cis-gendered white men). This sense of unease and terror was palpable throughout the writing, even more Janet and her friend, Marie, became aware of it as it related to them personally.
Abby was a complex character that had a lot going on and while there were some things about her chapters that I wasn’t a fan of, overall I thought her interesting. Walking through her handling not only of her senior project, but also of the pursuit of the identity of her favorite author and her daily life opened up a character map with many offshoots and paths to explore.
What I Didn’t Care For As Much
While Abby’s complexities did speak to the realities of not only being human, but especially a teenager in her situation (dealing with parents that are fighting; a little brother being affected by that; a potential uniting with her ex; among other things) it felt like at times that all of these threads got tangled and made it hard to follow which one the reader was meant to be concentrating on at any given time.
Would I Recommend
I would recommend this, especially if you’re interested in the era of lesbian pulp fiction. As someone who didn’t know much about the genre prior to reading this title, I think I found out a quite a bit, including threads to learn more (I didn’t realize The Price of Salt, aka Salt was a lesbian pulp novel, for example). Robin Talley included information at the back relating to real titles and authors to explore and that inspired her before writing her own story, which I found incredibly useful.
I would remind readers that there are scenes, particularly those that take place in Janet’s timeline, that have an overwhelming feeling of tension relating to homophobia, whether external or internalized. Whether on the page or inferred from the context of the events in the book, it could make some scenes difficult to read, so be aware of that when diving in. The book is well worth the read, but some fair warning may be needed.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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