Music From Another World by Robin Talley
It’s the summer of 1977 and a resurgence of conservatism is thrumming through the United States. Closeted lesbian Tammy has been caught up in the middle of it—her aunt and uncle are two of the ringleaders of the West Baptist Church advocating for a return to family values and an eradication of gay people from schools (and well, life). When she’s assigned Sharon from San Francisco as a pen pal for a school assignment, it’s like a dream come true. The two bond over punk music, and slowly begin to realize that eventually they’ll need to take a stand. For something.
While this was enjoyable—and the audiobook was incredible—it sagged so heavily in the middle. Seriously, the middle took forever, and the epistolary format became a little hard to endure, mostly because there was a lot of detail and word for word interactions in the form of letters.
However, the premise was fantastic, and Talley shines in her research in gay history and putting people into the context of their era. I loved reading about the late 70s, admittedly a period of time that I um, hardly ever read about, and I loved all of the gay history that was put in, from Harvey Milk to anti-gay rights activist whats-her-face Anita Bryant to punk rock to Prop 6 to all of the marches and the beginning of Pride and the very real fear of what would happen if you were outed.
Of the two girls, I liked Sharon the best, mainly because I emphasized with her realization of her sexual orientation. I have a feeling that this book might have faced or will face some backlash from Sharon’s (mild spoiler ahead) realization that she is bisexual, particularly since she spends most of the book dead set on the fact that she’s straight. She’s got a boyfriend. She likes boys. Sure some girls are really fascinating, but that doesn’t make her gay because she likes boys and you can’t be a lesbian if you like boys. Imagine growing up in a time where you didn’t have the language or understanding that you can like men and women (and enbies too) together.
Also, both girls deal with the crushing stigma of being different and having to conform to society’s expectation for how girls and women should behave.
As a girl living in conservative Orange County, within a highly religious family, Tammy has to conform in order to survive and stay under her asshole aunt’s radar. She must bury everything true to herself down and become a model of Christian society in order to survive. She has little leeway to be herself, and when she gets a taste of freedom, she leaps for it in the form of Caroline, a girl who is attracted to her and just fooling around (also: fuck you Caroline. I get why you did what you did, but fuck you all the same).
And as a girl living in a single-parent home alongside a mother who is kinda checked out, Sharon has to hide her brother’s sexual orientation. While Sharon has more leeway than Tammy, she also has to conform to expectations in the form of what her peers think of her in order to avoid high school hell. Her freedom is more pronounced, and I liked that she was able to grab a hold of her independence in bits and chunks, and how she slowly began to educate herself on how to be an ally to the gay community: first through her love of punk music (although how many times can you say someone growled into a microphone wtf), particularly girl bands, and then through a group of gay rights advocates working at a collectively owned feminist bookstore.
As the two correspond, they slowly begin to open up, although their secrets (Tammy’s gayness and Sharon’s brother’s gayness) start to become a barrier to their friendship. As the real world closes in around them, they fall apart—and then come back together.
And come together again as Tammy’s world falls apart.
Anywho, I’m not going to give any more spoilers than that, but I will just say that while I liked the resolution at the end of the book, I was a bit miffed at how everything went down. The final stand was lukewarm, to be honest, and I kinda just wanted either girl to just fucking stand up for herself. Granted, the point of the book was the power adults in power have over children, and the long-reaching arm of authority in the form of a charismatic religious leader.
One to check out if you’re interested in the gay rights movement of the late 70s, seriously slow burn sapphic romance, coming out and coming of age stories, and epistolary stories.
It would easily have been a five-star read if it had been edited more heavily. It did not need to be 384 (it felt like 500) pages long. Seriously, that middle section draggggggggs.