Book Review: ‘Out’ Highlights the Importance of Chosen Family

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Out

Dani’s story is one most of us are familiar with. A small town girl comes out, moves to San Francisco, and struggles to reconcile her right to be happy with the Catholic guilt of whether or not she actually deserves it. Any lesbian or bisexual woman who has struggled with a Christian background coinciding with the concept of redemption and being inherently flawed can relate to Dani’s daily struggles with who she is. San Francisco has been known as a safe haven for members of the LGBT community, but it’s easy to feel alone even when surrounded by acceptance if you don’t accept yourself. The struggle of being out can be just as difficult as the act of coming out, especially when you’re convinced that who you are makes you irredeemable.

Any lesbian or bisexual woman who has struggled with a Christian background coinciding with the concept of redemption and being inherently flawed can relate to Dani’s daily struggles with who she is.

In Out, Dani’s feeling of perpetual loneliness triggers the presence of one of her heroes, deceased poet Frank O’Hara. Although the concept of an imaginary friend is a bit of a juvenile element in a story about an adult, that appears to be the point author Melissa Fondakowski is trying to make. Dani is a child trapped in an adult’s body, going through the motions of maturity without the mindset to go with it, which is the case for so many closeted or struggling lesbian and bisexual women. With a childhood full of repressed feelings and hidden emotions, sometimes a real adolescence isn’t possible until well into adulthood.

With a childhood full of repressed feelings and hidden emotions, sometimes a real adolescence isn’t possible until well into adulthood.

As someone who was raised to second guess every decision, for fear that a higher power will dish out a deserved punishment for every false move, Dani spends every moment battling with her own instincts. Frank, on the other hand has a bravery and boldness that, in her mind, can surely only be possible from someone who is among dead. After all, what does he have to lose now?

Frank’s presence, along with several other of the supporting characters who surround Dani, exist to remind both her and the readers of the importance of a chosen family within the LGBT community. Whether you’ve been rejected by your family, live far away from them, a combination of both, or simply need the companionship of people who just understand, you know how much chosen family matters. Dani’s deeply embedded rejection of herself clouds her ability to see the support she has aside from the spirit of Frank O’Hara, from her roommates to her colleagues.

Whether you’ve been rejected by your family, live far away from them, a combination of both, or simply need the companionship of people who just understand, you know how much chosen family matters.

The only issue that arises from Out is when it strays too far away from this core message. We tag along with Dani on a series of tragically awful dates, which is all part of her journey to self-love and acceptance. However, the way this particular part of the story is tied together with a pretty bow detracts a bit from the tone that’s by and large maintained throughout. I would have loved to see less emphasis on the serendipitous conclusion of Dani’s love story and more focus on her relationship with the aforementioned members of her chosen family and the realization of their role in her life.

 

Where Out shines is during the exchanged between Frank and Dani when he pushes her to recognize the absurdity and frivolity of some of her fears and trepidations. The scoffing he does at her constant claims that God is constantly smiting her for misbehavior, like a petty mean girl; the constant companionship and encouragement he has when she  dreads each online conversation and subsequent date is a blend of a supportive best friend and that inner voice we learn to listen to as our confidence as a gay individual grows.

Where Out shines is during the exchanged between Frank and Dani when he pushes her to recognize the absurdity and frivolity of some of her fears and trepidations.

I wish the ending had done Dani’s newfound confidence and independence more justice, perhaps by concluding with a conversation with Frank and a finite ending to their relationship where he informs her that she no longer needs him anymore. Projecting the baby steps she is making toward self-acceptance by acknowledging what she already has around her would have felt like a more definitive and encouraging ending.

All in all, Dani’s rediscovery of herself and her confrontation of the loneliness and displacement that can settle into someone’s soul is an important journey for readers to take. The blend of innocence that surrounds Dani along with her jaded outlook creates a relatable narrator who tells a story that isn’t for the faint of heart, but needs to be heard.

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