Release date: August 30, 2016
Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.
Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?
A sweet story about faith and acceptance, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit revolves around Jo, the daughter of a pastor who is openly gay but is being asked to go back into the closet for the sake of peace. When her father moves her to bigotry town, out of concern for her, he asks her to fly under the radar; he evens coaxes her into a deal which she is tempted to not refuse. So, Jo undergoes a makeover – she acts ‘normal’ (as in what would be expected of a preacher’s daughter), she goes along with people assuming she is straight, all for the sake of not upsetting the relationship between her family and her new step-grandparents. It’s all easy until she falls in love with a girl, something that does not fall under laying low. Starting with her getting all flustered over whether she could be gay like her, to helping her come out, theirs is a cute romance.
A big theme of the novel was how faith and accepting of everyone’s love need not be a separate thing. Jo is a devout girl, but she undertakes the teachings of her religion with careful thought. And she wants to spread this love among even the conservative people of her faith. For this, her father’s evangelical radio program is her springboard, but if she wants to gain acceptance, first she has to make friends. In the initial days of her laying low, it comes easy for her – she notices how people act better towards her, and she doesn’t have to be so concerned with judgement. But soon, she also sees how this omission now bordering on a lie, starts to burden her. Moreover, her lesbian BFF back home feels she is retreating into her closet for real. That, along with the fact that she likes a new girl now, but still can’t let her know that she was out of the closet long ago, makes her feel conflicted. On one hand, she is sparing her family and herself some grief, sparing all the bigotry and hostility, but she also isn’t able to be there for another girl coming out, a girl who wanted her support. And that was a crucial point – in hiding herself, she was also hurting someone else.
Jo comes across as a fiery but even-tempered girl. She has a mouth on her but knows where to use it. Losing herself in the charade was something she thought would be impossible, but it happens anyway. Also, it brought out the difficulties LGBT folks have in coming out – the place, the community and the people around you will react differently, and so everyone’s experience will not be the same; sometimes it is a process that has to happen over and over. It is saddening that we live in a world where if you are not heterosexual, you have to declare your intentions or people think you were lying. I say this with regards to Mary’s coming out – her friends basically called her a liar because she took time and courage to tell them about it. Also, while subtle, the author brought about how heteronormativity is widely prevalent – everyone is considered straight unless told otherwise, but also homophobia exists side by side with it.
Overall, it is a beautifully written book, and I loved the topics the author brought about. Though quite simplistic, it is also a very sweet story.
Received a free galley from HarperTeen, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.