Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Ramona Blue, you guys. Wow. This book blew me away. Julie Murphy navigates her fully developed characters through many, many issues and completely fleshes them out (the characters and the issues). You know. Kind of like life. Amazing. In addition to the incredible, perfectly packed storyline and winsome characters, Murphy’s turn of phrase had me highlighting my eBook right and left. Here are a few of my faves: “You were like my own Peter Pan,” says Freddie. “I thought you would never grow up and that you’d always be this constant fixture on the beach, challenging other kids to races in the sand and swimming-noodle duels.” / His words suck the breath right out of my lungs. No one has ever summed me up in such a succinct way. I feel like Peter Pan, and it’s like eulogy is my Neverland. “I guess that makes you my Wendy Darling” (169). “It’s sad that sometimes we let ourselves believe that if it’s not bad, it must be good” (171). “Love doesn’t disappear when you give it away, and new love doesn’t make old love any less legitimate” (203). Sigh. Anyway, Ramona Leroux (called Ramona Blue because of her signature blue hued hair) has spent most of her poverty-stricken life in a FEMA trailer with her loving but overworked dad and best friend of an older sister. After Hurricane Katrina hit and their home was destroyed, they were put up in a temporary trailer and they never left. You know who did leave? Mom. When Dad and the girls started their new life in the trailer, Mom took her opportunity to start a new life away from her family. Ramona is a hard worker. In addition to her daily paper route and any other odd jobs she can get, she busses tables at the local oyster bar, Boucher’s, in her small Mississippi beach town of Eulogy (note: I WANT TO EAT OYSTERS AT BOUCHER’S IN EULOGY, MISSISSIPPI). She works with her sister, Hattie, and her best friends, siblings, Saul and Ruth. It’s the end of the summer and Ramona is super bummed for two reasons. One: her summer romance, Grace, is headed back home. Both she and Grace know long-distance relationships are rough. Plus, Grace is still in the closet. Actually, Grace isn’t quite ready to label herself as a lesbian. She’s still figuring things out. Ramona, for whom her sexuality is the only thing about herself she knows for sure, finds this incredibly frustrating. Two: Hattie is pregnant. Ramona has been saving for her and Hattie to leave Eulogy and start over someplace new. Those plans are now dead. To make matters worse, the baby daddy is moving into their tiny trailer. The only positives in her life are Freddie and swimming. Freddie (her childhood best friend) and his family (with whom Ramona and Hattie were close) move back to town for Freddie’s senior year. He has a membership to the Y and talks Ramona into going with him several days a week to swim. Ramona finds that she has a talent for swimming (which becomes a really, really cool part of the book). But she also begins to find that her feelings for Freddie are much stronger than friendship. How can Ramona have romantic and sexual feelings for a BOY???? She’s a lesbian!!! It’s the one thing she’s sure of about herself!!! So now, in addition, everything else going on in Ramona’s life, she now is dealing with an identity crisis.
Issues: poverty, teen pregnancy, Hurricane Katrina (and the effects of natural disasters, in general), irresponsible parenting (Mom), deadbeat dads (baby daddy), interracial dating (Freddie is African American and it’s NBD!), homosexuality, sexual fluidity, and more. All of these issues, yet the characters are what I’ll remember of this book. And the writing. Julie Murphy, you have channeled Sarah Dessen with your loveable characters, workplace setting, and memorable love scenes (I LOVE car wash make-out scene!!!) but brought it to a whole other level with your thorough exploration of some really tough and controversial issues. Well done! And, it goes without saying, Ramona Blue is a no-brainer for Gateway.