To be published on August 30, 2016
by Harper Teen
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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?
My take: Confession: I put off reading this because I wasn't crazy about the title, but what a lovely surprise this book was! It's a heartwarming story of identity and faith.
Jo is already out as a lesbian to her conservative radio preacher father, but when he remarries and moves them to a small Southern town, he asks Jo a favor. It's her senior year, so could she just ... tone herself down until she heads off to college? Jo agrees (after making him give her a radio show of her own) and becomes Joanna. Then she gets herself a mall makeover and hides her sexuality from her new friends. Until she falls in love with a girl, and discovers that girl might just share her feelings.
Yes, there is some suspension of disbelief required here. In the age of social media, in order to hide her old identity, Jo (literally) has to create a new name for herself. There's a fairly implausible explanation of how her father changed his Italian surname for his career, so that all Jo's social media was under a different name.
But after that comes a really nuanced story about finding yourself, accepting yourself, and accepting the fact that not everyone will agree with your life choices, whether that means being religious or gay ... or both. There's also a lovely stepmother/stepdaughter relationship. At first, Jo calls her new stepmom "Three" to distinguish her from Jo's biological mom (who died) and her first stepmother (who abandoned them). But slowly, the two form a bond that was really nice to see.
I wish Jo's radio show had been a bigger part of the book. It seemed to me that it was mostly used as a plot device at the end. I was thinking she could have formed a third alter ego and talked more on the air about some of her struggles.
Highly recommended for Miranda Kenneally fans - both authors do a great job exploring how religious faith doesn't have to equal narrowmindedness, and how differences of opinion don't have to lead to hate and contempt.