Around the World in Lesbian Fiction


Dare Truth or Promise by Paula Boock (1997) — New Zealand

"I'm in love with that girl, she heard as it reverberated inside her head. And it was a truth, she realised, as things are which you don't think, but discover have always existed."

Winner of the New Zealand Post Children's Book of the Year Award, Dare Truth or Promise is a reminder of how good young adult literature can be, no matter how familiar its premise.

Luisa "Louie" Angelo is a self-assured actress and comedian from a middle-class, religious home who falls hard for Willa, a strong-willed new classmate still struggling to deal with the repercussions of her first lesbian relationship. Willa's mother has already accepted her daughter's lesbianism, but Louie's family is shocked when they discover their daughter has fallen in love with another girl. When Louie's conservative mother tries to end her daughter's newfound relationship, an agonizing and almost disastrous separation follows.

Boock is a gifted storyteller, and Louie and Willa are memorable characters whose love is compelling and whose struggles, both internal and external, are both painful and believable.

Like by Ali Smith (1997) — Scotland, England

"It's like, like — I said, and I stopped, I couldn't think what it was like, it was Amy's heart, it wasn't like anything else."

Leave it to Ali Smith, the out, two-time Booker Prize nominee, to shatter the conventions of the girl-meets-girl romance. The trappings are there: the tension-filled first meeting between adolescents from different worlds (urban England and rural Scotland ), their early flirtation and forced separation, and their long-awaited, tension-filled reunion. What's missing in Smith's fractured, lyrical story is the obvious, longed-for resolution.

Amy and her 8-year-old daughter, Kate — who deserves a book of her own — narrate the opening of the novel, in which a mystery slowly unfolds about their itinerant lives in Scotland, and why the obviously intelligent Amy is unable to read. Roughly halfway through, the novel switches to Aisling's (Ash's) point of view. Her diary entries provide a more direct, but never fully revealing, description of the women's fractured relationship and its lasting repercussions.

The truth is elusive in this demanding novel, but Kate, Amy and Ash — and breathtaking, playful prose from an immensely gifted author — make the story's many challenges worthwhile.

Daughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendelson (2003) — England

"Confusingly, however, she has begun to smile into the pillow, and cannot stop. She, who had begun to feel fly-blown, dust-furred, is wanted. Wanted! She snorts through her nose into the feathers."

What pleasure must have consumed Charlotte Mendelson as she wrote this award-winning novel, which both honors and skewers her hometown of North Oxford, England, a place she describes as "the land that style forgot."

The story revolves around the Lux family. Victor, the father, is a "black-haired stooping wolfhound of a man," a dreadfully boring professor altogether blind to his family's ills. Jean, the mother, is, in Victor's version of high praise, "less unkempt than the other women" at Oxford. Together (sort of), they raise Eve, a bright but jealous, self-loathing and self-mutilating teenager who dreams of killing her younger sister, Phoebe, a girl with the beauty and parental adoration Eve desires.

Recently named one of the 25 most promising British authors by British bookseller Waterstone's, Mendelson, an out lesbian, has written several books that could be included here. Daughters of Jerusalem is a particularly funny and smart novel that exemplifies Mendelson's style, as she examines family dynamics and explores the conflict between the desire to belong and, in one case, the need to escape into the arms of another woman.

Babyji by Abha Dawesar (2005) — India

"Delhi became suffused with a trembling beauty when the breeze blew or when I saw a blooming flower. Everything around me made me think of the two women I loved."

What do you expect a 16-year-old lesbian in 1980s New Delhi to be? Sexually hesitant, uncertain, demure? If so, Baybji has a surprise in store for you.

Anamika Sharma is promiscuous and provocative, an adolescent intent on escaping innocence in part by diving into the arms of seemingly every woman she meets. In one erotic scene after another, she seduces a much-older divorcée, her servant and a classmate — and contemplates liaisons with one or two others as well. As she explores her own lesbian desires, she also tackles India's class issues and a series of profound philosophical questions.

Anamika is, she acknowledges to herself, more Humbert Humbert than Lolita. And as Ali Smith notes, Babyji — winner of a Stonewall Book Award and Lambda Literary Award — is as bold as its young narrator; it is, Smith says, one "cunning lithe defiant sexy tiger's roar of a book."

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst (2006) — Egypt, Japan, Sweden, England, Ireland

"… it's not like I think being on a TV show can change your life or make you a different person in any substantial way. But things do affect us, right? … Is it stranger to think you might learn something new in a situation like this than in any other life experience?"

Lost and Found is an unabashed page-turner, told by an ensemble of witty and interesting characters competing in a reality TV show similar to The Amazing Race.

The race includes two particularly interesting pairings. Linda enters the competition with her daughter, 18-year-old Cassie, a lesbian who hasn't told her mother about her attraction to women — and who, in the year before the race, didn't tell her mom about her pregnancy until the day she gave birth.

The race also includes a woman named Abby who went through a "Redemption" program to try to rid herself of her lesbian feelings. She runs the race with her husband, a fellow Redemption graduate who is desperately trying to overcome his own attraction to men.

The stories may be melodramatic, but Parkhurst makes you care, often deeply, about all the characters as they try to outrun their personal demons in the midst of their race around the world. Lost and Found is, in the best sense, an entertaining read, with more to say than … well, certainly more than any reality TV show.


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