Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

"Life isn't always written in the stars. Fate is mine to pen. I choose guys. I choose girls. I choose people. But most of all: I choose..."

Ramona is tall. Ramona has blue hair. Ramona likes girls. These are the truths that make up Ramona Leroux's life.

The Leroux family lives in a trailer after Hurricane Katrina messed up their lives. Their mom left shortly afterwards. Their dad works too hard as a handyman at a fancy hotel. Sister Hattie is pregnant and desperately trying to create a family with boyfriend Tyler. Ramona works a paper route in the mornings and shifts at a restaurant with her sister. She can't even think about a future for herself after her senior year. Her main concern is being there for her sister and future niece, because she is so certain that Tyler won't be.

While working her route one morning, Ramona runs into Agnes. Agnes had been a family friend from years earlier, and Ramona and Hattie had played with her grandson Freddie. Ramona and Freddie start to hang out again with her group of friends. Ramona is still hung up on a girl she was seeing over the summer, Grace, and Freddie is still focused on his long distance girlfriend.

Freddie decides to visit his girlfriend for her birthday. She's having a party, and he brings along Ramona for the long trip. Ramona brings along Grace. The entire trip is a disaster. Freddie's girlfriend hadn't wanted him to come, and they end up breaking up. Grace feels pressured by Ramona to come out and break up with her boyfriend, she gets drunk, and they also break up. Both Freddie and Ramona decide to swear off girls for the rest of senior year.

The pair start to grow closer. Freddie used to be on the swim team, but gave it up because he wasn't as good as the others and wasn't receiving any scholarships. He goes to the Y with Agnes and swims laps in the mornings, and he invites Ramona along. She isn't great, but she enjoys the activity (This makes me jealous, because I miss swimming laps in our pool). Every day, she encounters an older woman who critiques her form but is impressed by her speed and strength.

The woman finally introduces herself as Prudence Whitmire, a former coach at Delgado Community College. She thinks that she can use her ties to get Ramona on the swim team, that she could even earn a scholarship. At first, Ramona dismisses the entire concept. After a while, it starts to seem possible that she could do something only for herself. Then something happens with Hattie and she realizes how stupid she was being.

Meanwhile, as Ramona and Freddie spend more time together, Ramona starts to like him as more than a friend. One of the truths was that Ramona liked girls, but she starts to realize that it might be more complicated than that. They start dating, which culminates in a perfect night in New Orleans. After Hattie's setback, Ramona also breaks things off with Freddie to focus on work and taking care of Hattie.

I liked Murphy's Dumplin', but had a couple issues with the book that kept me from loving it. I loved this book. Ramona Blue was absolutely fantastic. It's a beautifully written story on a complicated subject, or rather two complicated subjects. First, Ramona's family is very poor, despite the fact that they all work constantly. They show through Ramona how hopeless poverty can make you feel. Second, the book shows how fluid sexuality can be. Ramona herself eventually realizes that she might not just like girls. She didn't automatically become straight even though she liked Freddie, she just wasn't completely gay. I like seeing books deal with more realistic, complicated issues, and I definitely recommend that you read Ramona Blue

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