From the award-winning author of Break and Teeth comes a raw and honest exploration of complicated identities in a novel about a girl living on the fringe of every fringe group in her small town.
Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.
Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere—until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca might be Etta’s salvation…but can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?
Buy it – Amazon
Going in, I assumed the author was black. I was wrong. I also assumed that I wouldn’t have much to critique! This book is widely acclaimed, and people that I trust recommended it. As far as identification, I’m a black woman, and that’s where the scope of my critique will remain…
I didn’t want to post this, but I really wanted this review on my blog.
I’m not sure how I feel about this book. When I first wrote the review, it was long as hell. Five pages long in my notebook. I’ve decided to cut it down, and discuss two issues I had. I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now, and after scrolling through the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I’ve realized that no one has had the same issues that I had.
Or enough black women haven’t read this story.
This review may be all over the place…
Here were my main issues with the story:
The bullying & The d*kes
Those bullies were horrible. Like….horrible horrible. I read a few reviews by queer women on Goodreads, and they shared the same problems as me. It definitely seemed like the author had a vendetta against lesbians. Every single lesbian in this story was abusive in some way. Which, uh, from my experience, is not on brand. The tense interactions between Etta and the d*kes (her crew of queer friends) seemed extremely personal, like they were based off of real life accounts from the author. Which…like I get it. But that arc is never…concluded…
Her friends are horrible and they get away with it.
Yeah, that’s usually what happens in real life, but in a book for teens I think that there should be a learning moment. Etta basically plans to run away from that small town because of the bullying, and does. The bullying between her and her old crew of friends, the d*kes (which I know is reclaimed, but uh…I feel uncomfortable seeing nonqueer people using that term in reviews….) is never confronted. Those girls never learn. And because of that? I hated all her friends. Including Rachel. Rachel was the worst, and clearly cared more about herself than Etta. Seeing her happy, proud and out friends bully her for being bisexual really got on my nerves.
Like it really pissed me off.
And the excessive slut shaming was annoying as well. Etta got it from the sister she ignored, and the d*kes.
When I first started writing, I attempted to ignore the harsh realities that black people have to face on a daily basis because it’s fucking depressing. But it’s impossible. I can’t just ignore racism, it’s RIGHT THERE. Ignoring micro & macroaggressions that a black person will experience on a daily basis makes for an unrealistic book.
Basically, this book read like a white woman wrote it.
Her race is NEVER mentioned. This GLARED at me as I read the book, and it made me set it down several times.
I thought that Etta’s queerness was written so well. Etta was definitely secure in who she was, and what she identified as, even when her friends wanted her to be a “full lesbian”. She stood strong in her bisexuality. This wasn’t a coming out story, it was one of Etta living her life and learning more about herself.
But what this author didn’t do so well, was recognize Etta’s standpoint. Etta is a queer black woman. She occupies two marginalized identities. In a rich predominately white area, Etta would experience both racism and homophobia. If anything, Etta’s parent’s wealth is discussed more than her being black.
It was so fucking weird.
Etta’s blackness is discussed about two times in the book:
- Whenever she compares herself to other people. She typically mentions her size and her dreads. That’s what sets her apart from her peers. And, wow, my least favorite sections are the comparisons to the tiny, frail, white girl (Bianca) she’s obsessed with for some reason. The subtle references to Etta’s personality made me pissed too. She kept being described as big and scary.
“I was strongly discouraged from joining debate team because they guessed- correctly- that I was too scary for other 12 year olds” (166).
Considering Etta has attended PWI’s her whole life, I’m going to assume that her teachers were terrified of her scaring white kids. Alright.
- In the worst conversation on Earth with her boy toy Mason. A conversation that proves how exasperating it is to discuss race with nonblack people. Unless that was the author’s point?
Etta brings up an excellent point, and talks about the privilege a gay, cis white man has. They have the ability to pass as straight, and still hold the privileges of a cishet white man. And Etta doesn’t have that privilege. She can’t hide both sides of her identity at all. She can’t just choose to be white one day.
Know what Mason said?”
“Okay, but like, at least then everything’s out in the open. You don’t have to do that moment when you slip up and say something and see ‘shit, I didn’t know you were black’ across their faces.”
“And like your family is black right? Your mom’s family?”
“What’s your point?”
“Easy, all right…It’s not like James has a whole family of gay people. He’s got this thing that makes him different from all these people who are close to him” (165-166).
That’s not how it works at all. Just like their white friend James does not have a family full of gay people, Etta doesn’t either. Her entire family is BLACK, but her entire family is not queer. I don’t know if Mason was invalidating Etta’s bisexuality, or if he was that vapid.
I’m going to guess that he’s vapid.
This conversation just made me so mad! In the only conversation where she openly speaks on race issues, she gets shut down by this guy. He basically tells her that her identity as a black queer women is not as targeted as that of a cis white man?
Opening for anyone to drag me if I’m wrong.
I mentioned micro-agressions and macroagressions above. From my perspective, the actions of Etta’s friends seemed kinda….racially motivated. No one in the group is black, and Rachel is racially ambiguous. I have no idea what she is, it was really iffy. I’m assuming the whole group was white passing cough. Etta constantly brought up how she KNEW they disliked her, and she couldn’t figure out WHY. Supposedly, these girls spit on her and pushed her because she dated a guy.
Let me say this…I don’t know a single black girl who would not behave erratically after being spat on. Like…it’s in the rule book…
One of the girls shoved a few chicken feet into her locker…that’s when I realized that these girls were probably racist. When I think of chicken or pig feet, I think of black people. Specifically, pig feet, is a VERY popular dish (that I dislike). And well, you know. Stereotypes. Chicken.
Basically, I’m trying to say that in MY head, those girls shoving chicken feet into Etta’s locker was equivalent to someone shoving a watermelon in there as a form of a prank.
All in all, it just felt like the author decided Etta would be black last minute. Like she was trying to fit into a diversity quota.
WHO EDITED THIS.
Diversity : 1
– Etta & her family
– Queer characters (OWN voices, I think)
Overall : 2 stars