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Review: South of Sunshine

South of Sunshine - Dana Elmendorf

As far as I'm concerned the more lesbian romances in YA the better. They immediately make my TBR list and I usually request them as soon as I see them on Netgalley, there is not nearly enough f/f romance in YA.  Unfortunately I just did not like this particular book.

Slut shaming and trash talking on the first page was an immediate flag and I simply just did not like the main character, Kaycee.  Her introduction to the novel talks about how she was ditched by some dude after making out with him and some other girl is already going for him. This girl, Chelsea, (nicknamed Chesty because of her big boobs and she apparently likes tight tops) is notorious for this sort of behaviour and pegged as the school slut by Kacyee and her friends.  Kaycee then says she makes out with a lot of boys but she has REASONS for doing it. Of course. This is okay for her, but not for other girls? Get the fuck over yourself, Kaycee.

The casual racism thrown around in this small southern town in this day and age is pathetic and quite disgusting. Yet in this particular town it seems like the norm. A new family moves in, a rich, well connected black family with a beautiful daughter and her dad has the potential to bring a huge contract into the town which would create a whole boat load of new jobs and revenue for the town. Kaycee's mom owns a clothing/jewellery/makeup store. The regular customers and some older ladies are openly chatting about this new family while Kaycee is working and the new lady comes in. The other ladies in the store – continue to talk about her husband and her race. It’s very uncomfortable to read.

The daughter, Bren, is tall and beautiful, she seems very friendly and nice. Kaycee finds herself staring at Bren a lot and worried instantly that someone will notice her staring and there might be more to the stares than just new girl curiosity. She’s rude and ignores Bren when her friends try to include her. Kaycee struggles with her growing attraction to Bren. In this town it’s pretty much a crime to be anything but white straight and popular. There’s a few other gay people in the town. Two other teens Charlotte and Jacinda, but it’s okay for them because neither of them are popular and Jacinda is from “the wrong side of the tracks”.  There’s also Kaycee’s best fried Van.  He’s not officially out of the closet but it’s one of those everyone knows but don’t make spectacle of yourself and don’t date anyone from our town.

The novel goes on from there and deals with Kaycee’s struggles for her feelings for Bren and how they eventually become friends and something more. The romance scenes when the two girls finally get together are exceptionally well written, the make out sessions are deliciously steamy.  Unfortunately, Kaycee can’t get past her fear of what will happen when her mom and her friends find out the truth about her.  The other girl she doesn’t like, Chelsea, is also interested in Bren. But when Kaycee and Bren are caught together, everyone turns on Kaycee.

Kaycee is so stuck up and judgemental it’s hard to feel hardly any sympathy for her. She’s a flat out bitch and backpeddles so fast to save her own ass she doesn’t seem to take Bren’s feelings into consideration at all and then tries to wheedle her way out of it when Bren hears some of the things she says to protect herself. At one point Kaycee has a huge argument with her friend Van where she publicly outs him therefore turning the danger away from her and onto him when Van who may be a bit of an ass has been very supportive of her and there when she needed someone to listen to and a shoulder to cry on.  It doesn’t help that when the town adults find out Kaycee’s mom’s solution is one of those appalling ‘let’s go pray the gay away’ camps.

Though eventually things work themselves out, and by the end of the book, even though some people will always be assholes and bigots, others can change and the overall message of the novel was peace hope and tolerance for everyone.  That message and the very well written romance scenes where why I gave it two stars rather than one. There were just so many other things in this book I had a big problem with before getting to that point and when it did get to the good points it was handled in a kind of unbelievable way but at least it was nice to see.

Thank you to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for approving my request to view the title.