Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Review: The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne
Title: The Inside of Out
Author: Jenn Marie Thorne
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I feel like most readers will dislike this book for two reasons—an unlikable heroine and an understated romance—which makes me achingly sad. Thorne’s debut, The Wrong Side of Right, was a perfectly constructed contemporary romance. It featured a protagonist we were familiar with—shy, submissive, and eager-to-please—which made it easy to root for her, support her, and grow alongside her as she found her backbone and stood up for herself. But Daisy, the heroine of The Inside of Out has got her life quite a bit more figured out.
Daisy is headstrong and throws herself into her passions. Whether it be the imaginary pirate world she created as a young child or the opera she convinced herself she could write in middle school, Daisy is used to spending her time alone. Her childhood best friend, Natalie, abandoned her after a summer traveling the world and after two years of taunts and bullying, Daisy finally finds a friend in Hannah, the new girl who moves from Austria. So, when Hannah finally comes out as a lesbian, Daisy is determined to do everything she can to support her best friend. Even if that means joining the LGBTQIA Club at their high school (despite the fact that she’s straight and they clearly don’t want straight allies). Even if that means petitioning the school board for the right for students to bring same-sex dates to the homecoming and prom when Hannah convinces her to drop the subject. Because Hannah has a girlfriend—Natalie—and Daisy will do anything to get her best friend back. Even if it means going viral and faking her sexuality.
It doesn’t take long for Daisy and Hannah’s friendship to fracture in the wake of Hannah’s announcement. It isn’t so much that Hannah is a lesbian as much as it is that Hannah is dating Natalie. Like Daisy, I felt betrayed and hurt that Hannah would so easily forgive Daisy’s long-time bully and the fact that Hannah doesn’t join the LGBTQIA Club or support Daisy’s efforts to rally for same-sex rights made me grit my teeth. Before long, Daisy gets caught up in a political fight that’s far bigger than her and her devotion to Hannah, though. She gets interviewed by a college freshman, Adam, and his article alerts the national news that Daisy not only brought up the rule that same-sex dates were not permitted at any school dances, but that in the response of the school to consequently cancel the homecoming dance Daisy promised to hold one of her own for students of all sexual orientations.
I really enjoy the political nature of Thorne’s novels. I’ll admit, though, that this novel is messy. Daisy becomes the spokesperson for the LGBTQIA Club at her high school and the media wrongly assumes that Daisy is a lesbian and is dating Hannah. The club members vote to keep the lie active since Daisy being a member of the LGBTQIA community is garnering national support—help that they actively need to pull off this homecoming on their own. Daisy, too, in an effort to become a member of the LGBTQIA Club calls herself “asexual” which—believe me, I know—is entirely appropriative. BUT, what I would like to point out is that Daisy is spiraling. For her, her entire life has been a series of bullies and taunts and now that she’s about to lose her only best friend, she wants to make a new niche for herself and have Hannah notice her again.
I think what I love most about this novel is the fine balance it walks between friendship and love. A lot of female friendships are intense and can be mistaken for romance and at times, Daisy abandonment issues manifest themselves as a pining for an ex. But, let me tell you, girl best friends are everything to each other and you can feel that energy palpably through Daisy. Another aspect I really, off-the-charts adored about this book was its honest portrayal and conversation of LGBTQIAP+ struggles. There’s a conversation in here about privilege—about what it means that Daisy can go on national television and pretend to be gay for an amazing cause but also not have to deal with the other ramifications of being gay. That she is white and wealthy and cis and straight—ALL of these are privileges and I think it’s really important that today’s high schoolers learn about privilege before going to college. It isn’t an easy discussion, but it’s an important one.
Moreover, there are ALL kinds of representation in this novel. We have queer students, students of color, students of mixed race, popular students who don’t feel as if they fit in, gay students who are religious, etc. Thorne even talks about the intersectionality of these labels—being queer and a person of color but also being wealthy, for instance. These conversations are on-going and oh-so-important and I feel as if Thorne has discussed them in a really thoughtful, careful manner that I haven’t found in a lot of other LGBTQIA YA that has blown up this year.
But, all this careful talk about politics and sexuality has not erased some of the most basic components of a novel from The Inside of Out. Daisy’s mother is a treat, ever-supportive and always curious as to what Daisy’s life is really like. Her father is a genius video-game designer and spends much of his time inside, but as Daisy later remarks, at least he’s there unlike Hannah’s father who is still in Austria. Natalie’s parents, on the other hand, refuse to acknowledge the fact that she is lesbian so, on the parental unit, we have a wide range of personalities and difficult situations to navigate. Thorne excels in creating these relationships—realistic but almost to a fault—and I love that friendship and parental relationships take precedence in Thorne’s novels.
Now, that’s not to say that her romances are not swoony-af. Adam is adorable, cute, and often amazed by Daisy. I love that their friendship is supposed to remain “professional” but I also love that they totally understand one another and support each other. Thorne’s romances are understated, like I said, but they’re still fantastic. And, like I mentioned, Daisy isn’t the most likable heroine. She doesn’t always follow through on her promises—like creating a mural for a group that she volunteered with over the summer—and she often thinks only of herself, not realizing how difficult it is for Hannah to come out as a lesbian and throw herself into LGBTQIA rights. This book is messy and difficult, it’s intense and lovely, so it’s not an easy read but it’s one I recommend whole-heartedly. Thorne has a way of making you care about her characters and become invested in her stories and, what’s best, is that you leave them learning about the world, its political machinations, and growing alongside her heroines. It speaks to her skill that she is able to write two such different protagonists but both with equal aplomb. While I don’t think this will be nearly as much of a hit as her debut (though I hope it will be!!), I will be sticking around to read anything—and everything—she writes. A new favorite of 2016, guaranteed.