She Loves You, She Loves You Not … , Julie Anne Peters, Little, Brown and Company (2011)
Alyssa is having one heck of a not-the-greatest-ever summer. First bummer: her girlfriend breaks up with her and gets with one of Alyssa’s best friends. Second bummer: her dad finds out she’s gay in the WORST WAY YOU CAN FIND OUT YOUR DAUGHTER’S GAY, disowns her, and sends her halfway across the country from Virginia Beach to live with her mom in Colorado. Her mom abandoned Alyssa as a child and has had little to no contact with her for years, so understandably Alyssa isn’t super-psyched about this sudden, strange arrangement.
The small Colorado town which is suddenly Alyssa’s world, however, slowly but surely sneaks small tendrils into Alyssa’s heart, mainly through characters she meets through the waitressing gig she secures at the one good breakfast place in town. There’s my favorite, the crotchety proprietor, Arlo (because who doesn’t love an outwardly-gruff yet inwardly-loving old guy?); the mysterious and strong fellow-dykey-waitress, Finn; and the other lovable small-town regulars who fill the restaurant’s seats each morning.
As the summer passes, Alyssa works to get over the heartache of her ex while simultaneously falling into what may be another foolish relationship with Finn, who not only isn’t fully comfortable in her sexuality but has never hidden her intentions to leave town once she gets enough cash saved. In addition, Alyssa deals with the grief of losing a father who refuses to come around, while she cautiously attempts to get to know and get past judgment of a mother who she really hardly knows at all.
There were a few things that I had a little trouble with in this novel, the main one being that Alyssa spends so much time being heartbroken over her ex, yet her ex seems immature and irritating from what we know of her, so it’s hard as a reader to really feel empathy with her heartache. (My reaction throughout was basically: “Her?”) I also started this novel immediately after finishing A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, and the writing styles are quite different. I had been so in love with Horner’s style, it was personally slightly jarring.
But Peters continues to do what she does so well in many other aspects. First, in addition to being a wonderful ball of sass, Alyssa never doubts her sexuality for a moment, and while she obviously hurts over her father’s rejection, she never wallows in shame. She’s not shy about pursuing Finn or sharing who she is with pretty much anyone. Essentially, it is lovely to have teen protagonists who are super confident in their super-lesbo identities. And without being overly graphic, Peters is also never afraid to describe the sexual desires those super-lesbo teens indulge in.
More than anything, the diversity in this book was my favorite thing about it; there were quite a few topics brought up that I hadn’t seen before in queer YA. Arlo (my favorite) is in a wheelchair. Finn is Native American. And Alyssa’s mother earns part of her living by dancing at a strip club, a profession which causes Alyssa to first harshly view her mother as a whore before she reaches a gentler understanding. In the end, this is a feel-good book that confronts hard issues but still leaves you cheering for Alyssa with a smile.