Review: Starting From Here, by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (Sept. 2012)

Starting from Here, by Lisa Jenn BigelowThe pitch: Funny, touching lesbian coming-of-age story. Plus there’s a dog!

The review: There are precious few good lesbian YA novels. Thanks for writing an awesome one, Lisa Jenn! Let me count the things I love:

I love that Colby’s orientation is only part of her story. The book is about figuring out all of her relationships: with her friends, her dad, the dog she rescues from the side of the road, the dog’s vet…

At the same time, I love that the relationship issues are central and don’t pull punches. Characters fight about coming out, recognizing that they need to do so in order to be true to themselves and to have the kind of relationships they want with their families, but they don’t pretend that will be easy — and it isn’t. In at least one case, a character recognizes that it might not even be possible, that her family’s prejudices might be too hard to overcome. As much as I love books set in Boy Meets Boy rainbow fantasy land, where gay high school relationships can proceed exactly like straight ones, that’s sadly not the world most teenagers live in. (Yet.)

I love how issues of class are introduced sensitively but honestly. Colby and her best friend Van make it clear they aren’t poor, but money is an issue. Van picks up cans along the highway to earn the deposits for spending money. Colby works long hours at a grocery store. And, of course, her dad is a long-haul trucker because it’s more lucrative than the jobs he could get closer to home; Colby’s anger at his absence is one of the main conflicts of the story.

I love that when Colby screws up, she screws up. It’s believable, and it’s also not easy to fix. She has to have some hard conversations, and while some go a little too smoothly, most of the people she’s hurt don’t let her off the hook easily.

Overall, I just love the feel of the book. I read it weeks ago, and its warmth has really stayed with me: Colby’s trailer all decorated for Christmas, the heavy sigh of the dog on the couch, the warmth of Robyn the vet’s kitchen.

I do have a few quibbles:

The Gay/Straight Alliance chat room conversations were distracting and didn’t add much to the story.

Colby’s father’s extended absences seemed to border on neglect — he was only home one or two nights a week, leaving a high school junior basically living alone. None of the other adults in Colby’s life (her GSA advisor, Robyn the vet) seemed as concerned about this as they should have been.

And as refreshingly honest as everyone is about their money troubles throughout the book, they seem to disappear in the overly sunshiny ending: Colby’s dad gives up the trucking jobs for some unspecified (and less lucrative, according to the arguments he made the whole book) job closer to home, yet they still have money for Colby to quit her job to play soccer without even a discussion?

These really are totally minor quibbles, though. Overall, I loved it to death. Colby reminded me of D. J. Schwenk from Dairy Queen, and really, there is no higher praise.

(There are still basically no lesbian novels that are appropriate for kids under the age of 15, alas. Some second-base action and suggestion of more keeps this one firmly in the high school realm.)

Also reviewed by: Bonjour Cass (who has some lovely things to say about how the book handles Colby’s relationship with her late mother) and After Ellen (who points out how great it is that Colby never questions her sexual identity, just how others will deal with it).

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3 Responses to Review: Starting From Here, by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (Sept. 2012)

  1. Jaime says:

    I am fascinated at how the cover links itself to Boy Meets Boy.

  2. Shoshana says:

    Oooh, now I want to read this one!

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