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Book Review: Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Image of a digital book cover. A plant with green leaves and the red lips of a kiss on it is in the background of the book title.

Summary:
This bawdy book originally published in 1973 tells the story of Molly Bolt, the adoptive daughter of a dirt-poor Southern couple who boldly forges her own path in America. With her startling beauty and crackling wit, Molly finds that women are drawn to her wherever she goes – and she refuses to apologize for loving them back. 

Review:
I’ve been trying to read more queer classics and not solely limit myself to modern queer books. I stumbled upon this when looking for other books published around the same time as Tales of the City (review). While I absolutely appreciate how groundbreaking this was at the time, it didn’t work for me. I’ll have to give a couple of spoilers to be able to discuss why, so be forewarned!

Let’s start with what I did like. The prose calls out the racism of the north at a time when Jim Crow was still around in the south. Just because things may be better from a legal perspective doesn’t mean they actually are any less racist. This isn’t done in a preachy way. It comes about smoothly as Molly’s family moves from the hills of Pennsylvania to Florida. I really liked Molly’s dad, and the arc of her relationship with him. I loved how Molly’s first crush in middle school on another little girl named Leota is depicted. I appreciated how key moments in Molly’s life makes it clear she has to conform to succeed, and she refuses to do it. It hauntingly shows how minoritized people are kept down.

This is told in the first person, and Molly isn’t, to me, particularly likeable. I really wanted to like her. But I didn’t. She’s crass, abrasive, quite reactionary. She looks down on other people even while insisting she doesn’t. Ok, so for most of the book she’s a teenager or a young adult working her way through college. No one is perfect, and she has a lot stacked against her. But I would say she just becomes more full of herself as the novel progresses. I didn’t feel like she really learned anything. I suspect I’m supposed to think she did based on her final film school project, but it was hard for me to be moved by a film I didn’t see.

Something about Molly that particularly bothered me was an instance that really reminded me of some movies from the 70s I’ve seen, where a woman will say no to sex, but then the guy gets a little rough, gets her a little drunk, and later she basically says she’s grateful he took “advantage of her” because she really wanted it deep down (aka he raped her but she liked it). Well, Molly takes on the role of the aggressor in just such a situation in this book.I get it that this was a common trope at the time this book was written, and I’m imagining the goal was to show the same scene but with two women. But just because something was commonly shown in media at the time doesn’t make it right. I just can’t view Molly as a heroine when that’s how she engages with other women.

The other thing that’s problematic about Molly is that, since she’s adopted, she likes to say she doesn’t technically know her race. She bases this on having dark hair. At the end of the book she finds out she’s half…wait for it…French. She sees a photo of her father, and he’s French with dark hair. She never confronts herself about why she had this weird obsession with imagining herself as partially another minoritized race.

One more thing I feel I ought to mention is that Molly has a tendency to speak very negatively about butch presenting lesbians. It’s ok to not be into dating butches yourself. It’s even ok if you yourself find the butch/femme dynamic odd (although why you should care is beyond me). What bothers me, though, is how she describes butch women every single time she sees them. It’s downright insulting. You can be kind to other queer people you aren’t attracted to.

Again, I don’t expect characters to be perfect. Indeed, I think first person books with an imperfect main character are important for understanding other people’s perspective. But I do expect some growth and development over time. I felt throughout the book like Molly had no interest in self-improvement or reflection, and she never even has an epiphany that maybe she should.

Overall, why I understand why this book was groundbreaking, and it certainly had some memorable scenes, I felt the main character is unlikeable and doesn’t grow or change over time. I really liked her dad though. He was a morally flawed, complex character who I really felt could have held up his own fascinating book.

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3 out of 5 stars

Length: 221 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Series, #4)

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

cover_shadeSummary:
Jon Evans has spent the last two years living in an enclave as a slip — someone who received a VIP pass to get into an enclave that was originally intended for someone else.  His stepmother and half brother live there as well, while his mother and older sister, Miranda, and her husband, Alex, live just outside of the enclave, working and serving it while living in filth.  Jon isn’t like the rest of them.  He can barely remember a time before the apocalypse of the moon being hit out of orbit.  The enclave and its ways seem increasingly normal, even if he is haunted by the memories of what happened in the years between the apocalypse and the arrival at the enclave.

Review:
I was a bit startled to see that this book featured yet another new perspective, particularly after the return to Miranda’s diary in the third book.  I was expecting a turn back to Alex, but instead we get Miranda’s little brother Jon’s perspective.  I can understand the reasoning for this shift.  Jon is the only young person from the original group living in the enclave.  He is a bit of an antihero throughout most of the book, providing a unique look at the privileged elite in this post-apocalyptic society but one that could be alienating to some readers.

Whereas the first two books focused on the actual apocalypse and the third on the immediate aftermath, this book looks at the new society emerging from that wasteland, and it’s not good.  It’s quite dystopian.  Not everyone who enjoys apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds also enjoy dystopian ones, so this is a bit of a risky move for a series, although it makes logical sense for the plot to progress this way.  The dystopia that Pfeffer imagines is interesting.  The elite have built up enclaves and use those who are not elite to work supporting them, basically killing themselves slowly mining coal and growing food while the elite stay safe and educated in the enclaves.  It allows for a look at social class taken to the extreme while still seeming realistic within the world Pfeffer has created.

Jon also is a realistic character.  He’s a bit spoiled rotten, after all, his brother, sister, and mother all routinely gave him extra food while they starved when the apocalypse first occurred.  He’s the result of all the coddling they gave the youngest in an effort to keep him alive and healthiest.  That said, some readers will be turned off by Jon.  He’s unequivocally a jerk throughout at least half of the book before he eventually snaps out of it.  While I personally enjoy a good antihero every now and then, not all readers will like visiting one, particularly after the more heroic presence of Miranda and Alex in the first two books.

There is one aspect of Jon’s character that really bothers me, and it has nothing to do with his snobbishness and antihero nature early on in the book.

*spoilers* 
He lets on early on in the book that something bad happened to Alex’s sister Julie.  He at one point misleads a female character to believe that he raped Julie to drive her away from him.  This is done to protect her, and the reader is led to believe through this scene that Jon obviously didn’t rape Julie.  Yet when we find out what actually happened, it’s not quite so crystal clear.  Jon basically was making out with Julie and not stopping when she asked him to the first time.  She then runs out into the storm and is killed in the tornado.  Jon states that of course he would have stopped, he was just slow about it and reluctant because he didn’t think Julie’s protests were real.  He thought she wanted him but wasn’t letting herself want him because of her religion.  This is clearly many levels of fucked up. The reader is supposed to just believe Jon that he would have stopped because he says so?  The reader is supposed to believe that Julie 100% over-reacted because Jon claims she did?  It’s a squicky scene to read about, partially because it comes across as that the reader is supposed to absolve Jon from any guilt since he clearly didn’t rape Julie.  He’s also upsetting because no one in the book treats this like the serious issue it is.  Everyone just kind of shrugs and goes oh Julie over-reacted and goes on their merry way.  Even if Jon really was about to stop when Julie ran out, he clearly needs to be spoken to about listening to your partner immediately, about seeking out enthusiastic consent, and about not victim blaming.  Particularly given that this is a YA book and what an important issue this is, the way it’s glossed over left a really sour taste in my mouth.
*end spoilers*

I’m not against the presence of an antihero, including in a YA book, but I do think that Jon’s worse qualities could have been handled with a bit more deftness.  His presence instead dances around the edges of certain issues, rather than drawing them out for examination within the context of a fun dystopia.

The plot gets a bit nuts, and one character in particularly has an ending that is rather anticlimactic.  However, the plot does eventually move everyone into a new area of the dystopia that is quite fascinating and sets the series up well for another book that will hopefully be free of Jon’s perspective, if Pfeffer does decide to write one.

Overall, readers of the beginning of the series will enjoy seeing what ultimately happens to Miranda and Alex, although they may be frustrated to have to do it through Jon’s eyes.  Jon is an antihero who may irritate some readers, and his presence brings up some issues that are then glossed over, rather than dealt with.  Recommended to readers who really want to see more of Miranda and Alex who don’t mind spending some time with an antihero.

2 out of 5 stars

Length: 304 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Previous Books in Series:
Life As We Knew It, review
The Dead and The Gone, review
This World We Live In, review

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