For the first time ever, I am re-reviewing a book because I think it’s that important. Today is the official release of It’s Not Like I Knew Her by my writer-sister-friend Pat Spears.
FULL DISCLOSURE: This book is being published by Twisted Road Publications, which is also publishing The Place of Peace and Crickets, a memoir by Tricia Booker, also known as ME. So Pat Spears is sort of my Twisted Sister.
It’s Not Like I Knew Her introduces us to Jodie Taylor, whose unenviable fate is growing up gay in 1950s rural Florida. Being gay isn’t just taboo; it’s illegal. Abandoned by her mother and rejected by nearly everyone else, Jodie somehow finds the strength to protect her sense of self even as she runs away from it.
Spears tells Jodie’s story with a calm sensitivity which draws us in like the scent of a blooming gardenia, and the result is a fascinating, absorbing tale of archaic Deep South traditions, heartbreaking intolerance, and the unlikely yet persistent proof that good people can always be found. Spears, who is gay and grew up in North Florida, has said this novel isn’t her own story, but it clearly speaks of pain she has known and felt. On her blog, she writes, “As a teenager, I sat many an evening on pilings, watching the sun withdraw beyond St. Joseph Bay, and tried desperately to imagine a future from nothing at all….My deepest longings were condemned as insane. I shared Jodie Taylor’s anger and despair, and her fear of being discovered.”
The Orlando terrorist attack at a gay nightclub prompted a tremendous outpouring of love and support. But mainstream society often has given only tacit empathy to the gay community. And that’s why I want you to read this book. It’s the same reason I urge you to read historical fiction, and books set in places you might never see: it gives you a perspective you otherwise wouldn’t have, and varying perspectives are crucial to a peacefully functioning society. Case in point: ‘Murica, today, a people who increasingly read fewer books, learn less about history, and might blindly elect a racist misogynist as its psychopathic leader.
It’s Not Like I Knew Her reads like a cowboy story sprinkled with Southern drama and soaked in iced tea. If your heart doesn’t ache along with Jodie Taylor’s, you need to check your pulse. Most importantly, though, this novel is a reminder that civil liberties are a pretty recent development in this country for far too many people. That’s a lesson worth learning again and again.