Ramona Blue - Julie Murphy

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

It's a tough world out there if you don't comply with the labels society has created around gender and sexuality. Attempts at examining sexual fluidity outside of these categories is often met with severe criticism, as Murphy found out on Goodreads when the description first went up. Many have stated they feel that Murphy has betrayed lesbians by having her main character go from falling for a girl to falling for a guy. Others have critiqued the novel as a form of bi erasure because Ramona refuses the label. I find it both intriguing and frustrating to hear these comments considering the emphasis currently place on fluidity in sexuality. But I suppose that this only applies to fluidity from one defined box to the next for some. In any case, I am a big fan of this book and I really hope people give it a chance and read it fully before judging.

Murphy's signature humor and raw writing make for a compelling narrative that, in some ways, reminds me of Bill Konigsberg's Honestly Ben, which similarly follows a character who feels secure in their sexuality until a new situation arrives and the questioning begins. Ramona is sure she is a lesbian, she has never felt anything for a guy before, but when Freddie comes back to town, her emotions and her sexual desires take a turn. While some readers on Goodreads attacked this as an example of someone "becoming heterosexual" or "being fixed," I think such assertions ignore the complexity that Murphy brings to her narrative. 

Ramona goes over this again and again throughout the book. She worries that her mom will think her desire for girls was only a phase, which she is still not sure it is (we, as readers, don't get to see the future and know if there are other girls or guys after Freddie!) She also debates with her friends and herself about whether or not this makes her bi or not, since she's really only ever been attracted to girls, and Freddie (this, as well, is similar to to Honestly Ben in that he is attracted to girls, and Rafe.)
There is this unexpected guilt every time I kiss Freddie. Like I'm doing him some kind of disservice by no being straight or that I'm somehow betraying Saul and Ruth by kissing a member of the opposite sex.
"I don't know [what this means]. I haven't decided what this means except that I like you. I like kissing you and holding your hand and being with you, but I don't know what that means yet. And that is all I can give you right now." 
And even,
"Ruthie, nothing between us is changing. You know that. Be negative all you want. Our lives are . . . evolving, sure, but whatever it is that exists between us will always be the same. Maybe liking girls was that common thread that drew us together, but it's not all that's kept us together and you know it. And I still like girls. A lot. Kissing Freddie doesn't suddenly erase that part of me." 
So, with that evidence in mind, I have a hard time seeing this as queer erasure as some are arguing online. I see it as sexual fluidity in action, and the attempt to understand what it means to exist outside of a defined label.

Highly Recommended


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