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?
Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is a thoughtful exploration of the complexity surrounding faith and sexuality. Jo Gordon is a proud lesbian. Due to her father's remarriage she has been uprooted from her home in Atlanta to a more rural part of the state during her senior year of high school. Her father is a man of faith and hosts a very popular Christian radio show. Since Jo's new stepfamily are very conservative in their religious beliefs, Jo's father has asked her to keep her sexuality hidden from the greater community, emphasizing that it will help her "blend in better" and make their transition to their new family less stressful. Jo reluctantly agrees and strikes a deal with her father that if she can keep her sexuality a secret then she can have her own radio show for teens that will address faith and coming of age issues including sexuality.
We follow Jo as she remakes herself from a new wardrobe to less Gothic makeup. She also manages to make friends by attending a youth group at her stepmother's church and discovers an unexpected romance. This is one of those books where I liked the secondary characters a lot more than the protagonist. I liked Jo for the most part. She is bold, candid, and thoughtful but she could also be very bratty when she throws tantrums at the beginning of the book. She does grow as she knocks down her own presumptions of people around her. The rest of the book is about Jo's torn decision between love and the commitment she made to her father.
I really appreciated how the characters attempt to navigate unfamiliar terrain that challenges ideals surrounding faith and sexuality. The author does not have any heavy handed messages of her own but rather lets her characters decide for themselves on this complex topic. Themes such as deception, trust, and sexuality are present throughout. Sex is discussed in candid terms as some of the characters are sexually active though I would have liked it if the topic of slut shaming had been addressed more. I also liked the inclusion of the different variations of diversity included in the book too.
The romance between Jo and Mary Carlson is cute, but I wished there was more an emotional development between the two girls. They seem to skip getting to know one another part of the relationship and jump into lust which is realistic but it feels superficial. I was unclear as to Mary Carlson's romantic experience as she seemed to take charge. I would have also liked to see Mary Carlson talk about her own revelation on her sexuality and spent more time on her coming out. Overall I liked the book and thought it was different than your typical coming out book, but it loses a bit focus with the melodrama towards the end.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, and a scene of underage drinking. Sex is discussed in candid terms as some of the characters are sexually active. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.
If you like this book try: Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Stealing Parker by Miranda Keneally