For our August-September Book Club we read Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. I bought this a few months ago and I’ve been so excited to read it ever since! I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint.
For anyone who doesn’t know much about the book, Ramona Blue is about a teenage girl living in a small town in Mississippi with her dad and sister. She is confident to identify hersel
f as a lesbian and is very protective of her family and friends, making sure to look after everyone she can. Her childhood best friend, Freddie, comes back to live in the town and the story follows Ramona as she questions her sexuality and figures out what she wants in her life.
Book club had very high praise for the book, with the lowest star rating being a 3.5 and highest at 4.5 (I too gave it a 4.5). Everyone enjoyed the book and the main reasons for the 3.5 ratings were that it just wasn’t fantastic or didn’t really resonate with that person.
Since our book club is an LGBTQ+ focused club, we of course spend quite a large amount of tie discussing the sexuality in the book and the representations. The most interesting parts of these discussions are always how different people react to the representations – of course, sexuality is a very personal thing and no two people feel the exact same when questioning/figuring it out. The discussion about the sexuality in the book was one of the most interesting I think we have ever had!
A couple of negatives people had were to do with the way Ramona felt about kissing Freddie. She says something along the lines of it not feeling weird because it’s a boy, but weird because it’s Freddie, her childhood best friend. Some members thought this didn’t really make sense because she did have some issues with the fact she began romantically liking a boy and voiced them sometimes because it contradicted how she had identified for a few years. Myself and a couple of others disagreed with this not making sense. We thought that she didn’t really see kissing a boy as that different to a girl in the grand scheme of things and it would potentially be weird kissing your childhood best friend! Growing up together and never having these feelings til you were older could be a really strange thing to get used to. Another point made about this was that it is very much about Ramona’s personality. She isn’t a person who seems to process in the moment; for example, she kisses Freddie without thinking much about it and then worries/overthinks it later. A lot of her other actions follow this same vein too.
We all agreed that we enjoyed the fact that other gay characters were peppered through the books. Two of Ramona’s friends, Ruth and Saul, are both gay as well as being brother and sister. It’s so rare that this is represented because there is often an assumption that there is one one gay person in a family or one in a group of siblings and that can be so inaccurate. Another character in the book has two mums and this isn’t revealed straight away. Both Ramona and Ruth are excited and amazed to find out that Adam has two mums and are confused as to why he didn’t tell them. Though we all understood that for Ramona and Ruth, growing up gay in a small town can be hard and to see two older gay women living happily together is quite rare and hopeful to see, for Adam this is his ‘normal’. He is used to having two mums and that’s just his family set up – to mention this to his friends just because they are also gay didn’t seem like something he should say.
One aspect we all agreed that we loved was other representation – not just of sexuality. Freddie is black and there is a scene where Saul leads them into a scenario where it isn’t clear if it is legal or not. Before this, Freddie becomes quite nervous and asks Ramona more than once if she’s sure this is okay. She is ignorant to what he means and just thinks he is generally anxious. After they are chased out of the situation by the homeowner who is threatening to call the police, Freddie is quite angry and upset and explains to Ramona how if they were caught, he would most likely be worse off because of his race (everyone else in the group is white). There is a brilliant conversation where Freddie says though he may not know what it’s like to be gay, Ramona doesn’t understand what it’s like to be black.
One aspect that is very strong is the highlighting of patience in gay relationships. On more than one occasion, it’s shown how hard it can be for someone coming to terms with their sexuality to be comfortable in a relationship and labelling it. This can be hard for all people involved in a relationship, as it’s hard to fully understand how the other person feels. This is shown between both Ramona and Grace, and Ramona and Freddie.
In terms of the characters in general, there was a wide range of personalities and we do see all of them grow. A few people were unsure on Freddie’s character because he was quite a typical YA boyfriend trope. Everyone liked him because he’s a good, understanding character but he does fall into a few tropes. It was good to see Ramona’s dad as an accepting parent, without even batting an eyelid at her sexuality. Having both parents like him shown and parents on the other end of the spectrum like Ruth and Saul’s is quite good to see. I spoke possibly too much about my love for Freddie’s grandma, Agnes (truly the best character okay), and there were mixed reactions about Hattie, Ramona’s older sister.
Overall, everyone agreed that they were glad we read it and it’s definitely recommended. I think the way it talks about a figuring out sexuality is different to anything else I’ve read and feels quite realistic. I’d definitely recommend as it is a different approach and covers the issues of labelling yourself just because it’s ‘easier’.
Our next book club is on Thursday 4th October and the book we have chosen is They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera! You can turn up if you’ve read the book or not – it would be fab to see both new and familiar faces there!