Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie MurphyRamona Blue by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray on May 9, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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four-stars

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.

As of writing this review (still half a month before the book’s actual release date), Ramona Blue has a rating of just slightly over three stars on Goodreads. For those who missed the fallout on Twitter and resultant spillover onto Goodreads in a rating battle, Ramona Blue came under fire for having a heroine who identifies as a lesbian fall for a boy. Based just off the book’s description, a campaign to sink this book was begun and a plethora of one star ratings with hateful commentary can be found, as well as myriad five stars by people attempting to counterbalance. Normally I wouldn’t address this, but I’m going to talk about this.

The short version, if you don’t want to carry on through the bulk of the review is this: Ramona Blue is a novel that highlights the ways that sexuality is a spectrum, and if you’re not okay with that then this book will not work for you, but it is decidedly not a heteronormative novel.

Ramona Blue identifies as a lesbian, and she’s never been attracted to boys before. She and her childhood Freddie end up becoming very close in the wake of simultaneous broken hearts. At first, they’re just friends, but then they’re not. Ramona doesn’t officially change her sexual identity, because she’s not yet sure by the end of the book what Freddie means for her sexuality. She just knows that she loves him. Ramona Blue is very similar to Honestly Ben in this regard, though it thankfully lacks the overt preachiness of the latter.

One of the things Ramona spends a lot of time thinking about when trying to decide whether to follow along with her feeling for Freddie is what people will think of her. She’s worked so hard to get certain people to accept that she’s a lesbian, and she’s worried that, by dating a guy, people will consider her het. She never stops being attracted to girls, and there are also two other lesbians in this book (one of whom comes out during the course of the book), as well as a happy gay couple. In no way does Ramona Blue come across like a book about a lesbian becoming heterosexual through the love of a good man; it reads like a lesbian who falls in love with her best friend who happens to be male, which might make her bisexual…or not. Ramona doesn’t know yet, and she wants time to think things through. This makes a lot of sense too, since Ramona’s a bit more concerned about her family’s survival than she is about labeling herself.

Stepping off the soapbox now, the romance was slightly disappointing. Freddie and Ramona are very sweet, but I didn’t really get the shippy feels especially from them. Most of the feels I had were family-oriented; Agnes is my absolute fave. I’m not sure why they didn’t quite click for me; perhaps it’s that I just don’t see them lasting long term. But hey they’re young, and they’ll probably end up with other people in college; maybe Ramona will find a hot swimmer girlfriend.

Ramona’s voice is strong and compelling. She’s very much not like me, aka deeply self-sacrificing. This does make her frustrating at a lot of points (and I did dislike the inevitable plot beat where she pushed Freddie away), but it always feels realistic to her character and where she’s at. Ramona loves her family so much she’s unwilling to even try to leave. Her coming of age arc reminds me a bit of Just Visiting, because both focus on the fact that everyone cannot afford college and that, even if they could, it might not be the best route forward.

The only part of Ramona’s arc that didn’t really work for me was the resolution. Hattie’s life suddenly conveniently works out (a reunion with a quickly-improved Tyler and his mother stepping in despite deep disapproval), which frees Ramona to work towards her own future. If Hattie’s circumstances hadn’t changed, Ramona wouldn’t have left. That’s a completely realistic resolution, but, in a novel, it’s not as satisfying as if Ramona had come to value herself without sort of being forced into it.

Ramona Blue is everything I’ve come to expect from Julie Murphy: strong characterization and complex emotional arcs. It’s beautiful, and I urge you to give it a chance.

Favorite Quote:

I’m not this sex-crazed maniac or anything, but I’m a human being. I think about sex. Girls think about sex. Sometimes a lot. I hate this idea that boys are thinking about sex nonstop and girls are thinking about—what? Stationery and garden gnomes? No.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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One response to “Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy”

  1. Looks like I will have to read this book 🙂

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