Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Ramona Blue

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: May 9th, 2017
Source: ALA Midwinter 2017
Date Read: 8/12/17 to 8/15/17
432 pages


Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. 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.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

Man, I have such mixed feelings about this book. Really mixed feelings. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to accurately express myself in this review, but I’ll try my best.

Also, there may be spoilers, so read at your own discretion.

A couple of months before the release of Ramona Blue, there was controversy centering around the blurb, which has since been changed. Long story short, some people were upset about the main character, a lesbian who discovers that she likes a boy.

I think those feelings are very valid, especially in a time like now. On the other hand, sexuality can be fluid. I personally view sexuality as fluid, as people can change. Having a label, and expecting to stick to it, puts a ton of pressure on that individual. Especially when you’re trying to avoid the whole “told you you weren’t X”.

Obviously some people love labels, and it works for them. And that’s totally fine, I have nothing against that.

But just a heads up, Ramona Blue leans towards being sexually fluid (at least I would say? More on that later). Which is why the main character’s sexuality is never labeled as being bisexual in the end.

But first, let me get to the parts that I liked about the novel:

  • Swimming. Automatically a win right there.
  • The fact that Ramona and her family are economically diverse, if that’s the right word. They aren’t rich, and even since Hurricane Katrina, they have been barely managing. But they make it worse. A big part of the plot is driven by Ramona’s sister, Hattie, and her pregnancy. (And that deadbeat boyfriend Tyler, who I HATE. Or hated I suppose. Just kidding, I still hate him)
  • Freddie. He is cool. And he also swims. And he does really have a great, adorable relationship with Ramona. Oh, and I also loved his grandparents, Agnes and Bart (step-grandparent?). Mostly Agnes though. They are so supportive towards him AND Ramona’s family.

  • Basically, every character is multi-dimensional and fully developed.

BUT HERE COMES MY MIXED FEELINGS. Not because the representation was portrayed inaccurately, but rather because of how accurate it was. The remarks from Ramona’s family and friends weren’t exactly enjoyable, obviously. It reminded me of another book, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, which didn’t sit well with me.

 This was why, at times, I ended up skimming parts of the novel. For example, when Ramona’s mom kept putting pressure on Ramona with the “I told you it was just a phase” mindset. I felt sad at this point, because these expectations hold people back, as they don’t want to prove their parents or their peers “right”. Which, I get, happens in real life. It just sucks.

Also, Ramona’s friends (mainly Ruth) were upset that Ramona liked Freddie, a boy. Their thought process was that liking both girls and guys took away from her identity as Ramona, the girl with the blue hair. Even though it…doesn’t. The thing about this was that Ramona never really stood up for herself in front of her friends (Ruth, really), so this thought is never challenged. In the end, they kind of accept Ramona liking Freddie. But kind of? Like more of “this is a one-time thing that will happen, I guess” And it seemed like Ramona also believed it was a one-time thing? At least it seemed that way to me.

I could be reading that wrong though. Lastly, I was slightly surprised that Ramona is never labeled as bisexual, as this book was often marketed as having a bisexual main character. She even admits that she’s still trying to figure it out and doesn’t know what to identify as, which is totally fine, don’t get me wrong! (Which is why I viewed her as being sexually fluid, but obviously other readers can think differently) I think I was just misled as to what I would be reading about. Like, seriously misled. It happens.

All in all, I did like Ramona Blue, even though I was cursing out the book every couple pages or so. It’s a book that will leave you with a lot of feelings, as you can see from this review. And ultimately, this just didn’t end up being the book I thought it was going to be.