Joanna’s out-and-proud life in Atlanta takes a devastating hit when her preacher father remarries and decides to move his Christian radio broadcast—and Joanna—to Rome, Georgia. It’s awful enough that Joanna has to spend her senior year as the new kid in a small town. But out of deference to the conservative attitudes prevalent in Rome, Joanna’s father asks her to lie low when it comes to her sexuality. Joanna promises, lured by a promise of a summer trip with her best friend and the chance to have her own radio show. And Joanna surprises herself by making friends with teens from her church group, enjoying a camaraderie that embraces her deep Christian faith. But one of the girls, Mary Carlson, takes Joanna’s breath away with both her beauty and her flirtatiousness. Is Mary Carlson gay? How can Joanna find out without breaking her promise to her father?
In this lovely, nuanced novel, Jaye Robin Brown explores many facets of life as a gay teen, including the risk of revealing a crush, the humiliating fiction of heterosexual dating and the fear of attracting hateful bigotry. Perhaps most moving, however, is Joanna’s expression of her fierce religious faith. She prays often (Dear heavenly Mother . . .) and aspires to spread hope and strength through her radio show by being “young, queer, and faithful.” This is what torments Joanna most about passing as straight, the sense that she is contributing to a toxic shame of homosexuality. This is a heartfelt look at one girl’s search for her true self.
Diane Colson is the Library Director at City College in Gainesville, Florida.