Title: Ramona Blue
Author: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
A book-loving co-worker gave me this book after seeing it on my Goodreads to-read shelf. She told me that I was going to love it. And I did! Julie Murphy is a strong writer with a story that I think a lot of teens can relate too. Ultimately, this book is about a coming-of-age and finding oneself in the world when there are many things standing against you or holding you back. Ramona is a character who is exploring her sexuality and trying to learn who she is while supporting her family and her sister. She sets aside her own future out of love for her sister. I think there’s also a lack of confidence there as she tries to find her own identity, unsure of what it is she really wants out of life.
The author tackles issues like sexuality, race, class, friendship, loss, divorce, alcohol/drug abuse, and romance. She doesn’t turn away from tough topics, but instead guides the characters through each hurdle, helping them to learn and grow along the way. The characters struggle with these topics, trying to understand themselves and each other, even in the most difficult of times. Murphy paints a picture that life isn’t always easy, but with close friends and family and a good support system, we can be sustained and grow in loving relationships despite difficulties.
This book did receive some negative feedback regarding Ramona’s sexuality, but I think we can take away from this book that she is a young woman who is in a process of self-discovery and exploration, and that’s ok. What this book does well is open up the door for conversation about sexuality and discusses how sexuality is fluid, not fixed. Ramona is not even out of high school yet. Nothing says that she needs to define exactly who she is and what her sexuality is, or even who she is as a person. She’s really just learning about who she is–even she doesn’t understand everything that she’s feeling! She’s driven and loving and kind. She’s learning about the possibilities that her future holds. She’s discovering the things she can do and the paths she can take, and even if she doesn’t know exactly where she’ll end up, she’s learning to make decisions, to move forward, to accept consequences, and to take responsibility.
I think this is a very strong and well-written book. It’s an excellent book to see out there in the YA market and it really stands apart from a lot of the other YA out there. It’s realistic, unyielding, and honest. Murphy builds a world that is very real for many teens out there and creates a space for discussion about issues that many teens–people of any age really–face. I think that it’s a well-executed story, and I hope to see more from Murphy in the future.