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?
♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: An actual rating of 3.5 stars! Ultimately, I would have love love loved to haven given this title a higher rating because I think the importance of the real message–that being a proud member of the LGBTQIAP+ community and also a Christian don’t have to be mutually exclusive–could have a major impact on readers, especially considering all the current events revolving around this group of people versus the world. So, that’s why it’s so disappointing that I can’t go higher. There were some issues that I had revolving around certain side-plots and the big plot arc that totally distracted from the bigger, more important focus the book should have stayed with in order to be a better read for me.
♥ Review: This review is going to be one of the more frustrating ones I’ve had to write to date. I would love just to focus on the relationships, the ones that the characters have amongst themselves and the one they have with God, because that’s the more vital, more influential part of the book; however, that doesn’t encompass the full scope of the book and the parts that affected my rating. But I’m going to keep this very simple because I could probably chat up both sides of what I loved and didn’t love for days and days, and nobody has time to read that and this review is already late going up.
The short of it is this: I loved the broad spectrum of characters the author introduced in this novel and the relationships those people had individually with one another and as a group of friends, a church community, and as a family unit. As the topic of this book directly relates to the big chatter going on around the world, but especially in the US at the moment with all the forward progress we’re making but also all the progress that is yet to be made, I was proud to see so many “arguments” made for the religious freedoms queer kids shouldn’t be criticized for wanting or given. But more than that, I loved the representation of so many hetero-people who were quick to uplift and rally behind those kids. Often times, I feel like Christians get a bad rap in the LGBTQIAP+ community because some voices tend to be louder than others. Yet some of us have a different opinion and we are there, ready to be supportive but also armored with our own faith that feels more inclusive than exclusive, and we’re willing to fight hard for you, too. For instance, in the same church, there’s the pastor on one side of the spectrum and the youth minister who’s completely on the other.
I make up my mind that I’m not coming back to listen to this hater. With good pastors like my dad in the world, I’m not sure how fearmongers stay in business. But fear does make a mighty wall of protection against the things people don’t understand.
-quote taken from the eARC of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit at 82%
“After today’s sermon, I want to make it clear to you all that I trust you. I trust you to know in your heart when you sin. I trust you to know God’s will. And I trust you to suspend your judgment and elevate your kindness. We are a blessed group filling this room.” He pauses and looks around at each table. “A small community shows its worth by the way we treat each other. We are not a pack of dogs throwing out the weak or the injured. Rather, we’re like B.T.B.’s elephants. Strong and faithful till the end. Am I clear?”
-quote taken fromthe eARC of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit at 83%
That being said, I can’t deny the fact that I feel like this book could have been more powerful if the author would have focused on the more pressing subject and not introduced other secondary plots that felt unnecessary me. For the biggest part, one of my greatest pet peeves in any book is when one solitary effort to communicate, one talk, could wrap the whole plot up in a single instance. For Joanna to be “out of the closet” and then “shoved back in” only to fall in love with a girl who wants to break them both out–Joanna can’t or doesn’t really want to due to other extenuating circumstances–is a realistic scenario, I get it. But if she had just spoken directly and openly with Mary Carlson, all the angst of the book and one of the major ridiculous side-plots never would have happened and that’s my big hang-up. I don’t understand how she can let her secret be known to one guy friend (who coincidentally has two moms and so I can understand her feeling comfortable living in her truth with him) but not be so bold and honest with a girl she’s supposedly in love with. . .I don’t know, it just felt inadequate and cheapened her feelings for Mary Carlson, in my opinion. To say it was frustrating and muddled the book for me goes without saying, but I’m saying it; I was annoyed. There was also an issue with Joanna’s lesbian best friend from Atlanta and her crazy hacker girlfriend that got her arrested side story. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what purpose it served in aiding the plot other than displaying teenage stupidity in all its glory.
However, I absolutely do not want to leave this review off on a bad note because I did enjoy parts of this book more than I disliked others. Those issues aside, I believe in the power behind Brown’s process and the way she handled this subject that can be a no-go zone for some. It has the capacity to change people’s lives–to mend broken fences, allow people to jump over the fence completely, and to bring clarity and understanding to those looking somewhere, everywhere, for an answer or more insight. I know I’ve included a lot of quotes from this book, but I seriously feel like this author’s writing and the impact she could have with the delivery of certain aspects of this story are a better portrayal of the importance of this book than what my rating reflects.
♥ Teaser Quote: This book had so many meaningful, thoughtful quotes sprinkled throughout and deciding on one is too hard. So, I’ll go for one slightly swoonier and one that’s more serious.
Here’s what I know. Kissing Mary Carlson is spooning homemade peach ice cream into your mouth on the hottest Georgia day. It is shooting stars and hot lava. It is every goose bump you ever had in your entire life built up and exploding all at once. It is going to be the end of me, but I don’t care.
-quote taken from the eARC of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit at 49%
She clears her throat. “Joanna. My beliefs were founded in the same church you’re going to now. Their interpretation of the dogma is older, stodgier, and just that–an interpretation.” She reaches out for my hand. I let her take it. “Part of my growth was watching the world around me change. It made me question some of those ideas I’d been taught were true.”
I feel like I’m going to be sick. Does Elizabeth think I’m a freak, too?
“But.” She squeezes my hand. “I discovered that I think God is a more generous savior than some would want us to believe. Ultimately, none of us can truly know how we’ll be judged. And any mere human who thinks their judgment is somehow mightier than another’s, well, they’re in the wrong.” She smiles at me and it’s like being wrapped in the softest cashmere throw. “Is it a sin? I can’t answer that with a yes or a no. I’m not the one deciding. There are certainly people in the world making dreadful choices who love people of the opposite sex. Are you a beautiful person who is kind and true and dear and deserving of faith and justice just like the rest of us? Absolutely. I don’t think God would have put you here only to torment you.” She squeezes my hand again. “So my short answer is, don’t worry about it. You’re perfect as you are.”
-quote taken from the eARC of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit at 75%
|Book Rating Breakdown|
|Cute, Fuzzies, Flutters|
♥ Rec It? Maybe? Yes? My thoughts basically boil down to this: THIS BOOK IS AN IMPORTANT READ, PERIOD. I think it can help people, especially queer teens struggling to keep their faith or find it in a world where people are quick to push them out just because who they love doesn’t match up with their ideal “Christian” relationship standards. I think it will also better help people who are quick to cling to certain texts in the Bible but miss the grander picture when it comes to fast judgment and understanding the teaching of love and compassion that should be a bigger message. I thought one of the best parts of the book was the author’s note at the end and if you walk away with anything from the book, I hope it’s this:
Faith is important to a lot of the world and for far too many queer youth, growing up with religion can be a painful experience. I wanted this novel to be something a young queer person of faith could hold on to as a bright spot while they navigate the waters of finding themselves. Maybe this story is too optimistic or maybe it’s exactly where we are in an exciting time of change, but as Althea says to Jo, didn’t God make you in his image? Aren’t you worthy of that love?
– quoted from the eARC of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, Author’s note
It goes on to express more after that, also as significantly equal, but I didn’t want to get in trouble for quoting the whole thing. If this novel did anything right, it was that Brown felt genuine in her approach to be a guiding force and a hand to hold in an effort to comfort people struggling with their sexual orientation, their identity, their faith, and where they all come together.
♥ A very special thanks to HarperTEEN and Edelweiss for providing me with an advanced copy of this title.
*Disclaimer: An eARC of this title was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review in any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this version and not of the published edition.
Full of giggles, flails, snark and Southern endearments. Avid Reader. Lover of swoony boys, kickass heroines, yummy kissing scenes, and pretty prose.
I like to draw hearts in the sky (eternal optimist) and wish on stars (forever dreamer). Documentaries, sweet tea, sleep, and brightly colored knee-socks are a few of my favorite things. ♥
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