Author: Sonora Reyes
Content Warnings: Discussion of abortion; Off-page child abuse; Homophobia; Mentions of Suicide; Parents disowning children
Genre: YA Sapphic Romance
RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain
7/10 disowned, despondent violets.
This review contains spoilers.
Sonora Reyes had me at Catholic School. Well, let’s be real–she had me at Lesbiana. I’m finally at the point where discussions of homosexuality and Christianity no longer make my eyes twitch and my body convulse, so I’m aware that the pain score I’ve assigned might not be harsh enough. However, Reyes really has found a way to take the sting out of many of the well-rehearsed homosexuality v. Christianity debates she reproduces for this brilliant book. As someone who has fought tooth and nail, bleeding and seething, for nearly two decades against every biblical passage slung at my identity, the discussions among protagonist Yamilet Flores, her (queer) friends, and the Catholic high school administration are, for me, predictable but absolutely necessary for readers of this book who are looking for a way out of the trappings of Catholic/Christian guilt. If I’d had this book in 2004, it would’ve saved me so many years of self-loathing.
1. Find a new best friend.
2. Don’t be gay about it.The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School, Sonora Reyes
Although Reyes has been out of high school a number of years, this book manages to be so in touch with what it’s like to be a teenager, especially one whose friends are not real friends but people who merely tolerate you. Yami willingly transfers to Catholic school after her ex-best friend (whom she crushes on) outs her to the rest of her “friends.” The anxiety Yami has about appearing “straight” at her new school, specifically her preoccupation with the “rules” about being a lesbian in a sea of straight girls (don’t hold hands with a straight girl, don’t look at girls in the locker room, etc.), exposes the core of hurt in this novel–what it’s like to be perceived as a predator and a creep in a (Christian) society that fears and thus demonizes queerness.
I loved the “cupcakey” (as Reyes puts it) friendship-turned-romance between Yami and Bo, her adopted Chinese lesbian love interest who takes center stage when she dares to present a pro-abortion view in a Catholic school classroom. Reyes had me in stitches numerous times, especially with the failed mission impossible scene on Valentine’s Day. I also adore Bo’s dad, the hokiest and Daddest of dads in the world. The writing in this book is so good and so beautiful. It’s what helped me carry on even when the subject matter got difficult for me, a recovering Catholic.
The more painful elements of the novel deal with rejection of one’s sexuality. Yami’s once-loving father disowns her once she comes out to him, and Yami’s brother, Cesar, who identifies as bisexual and attends the same Catholic high school as his sister, is so deeply affected by a session at confession that he contemplates suicide. Nearly all of Yami and Cesar’s energy is spent worrying about others’ perception of their sexuality and worthiness. Cesar nearly squanders his chance at happiness with his boyfriend, and Yami almost resigns herself to a closeted life. But Reyes does not promote these paths of action; rather, she seeks to expose the damaging effects of such self-effacing lifestyles.
Reyes does try her best to rescue Yami and Cesar from what could be dreary fates. Yami and Bo, after some awkward bumbling, get together, and Cesar gets back together with his boyfriend (even though it took a stay in a mental health facility to get here). Their mother manages to come around to her children’s sexualities, even though it takes her son’s suicidal ideation to compel her to consider her faith’s stance on homosexuality. And even though the three of them shout into the phone at Yami and Cesar’s father, “We disown you!”, I’m still wondering if this is enough of a fix. The father disowned both his children, after all, and no amount of shouting will ever erase the pain of that rejection. I won’t fault Reyes for either of Yami and Cesar’s parents’ reactions–she’s just imitating life. It’s the reality that many–if not most–queer people with Christian parents face.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that spoke to me as much as The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School did. The experience of reading this book was like talking to an old friend who has gained as much insight on their adolescence as you have. Even though it was torturous while it was happening, you can both look back on those times and feel a sense of closure and relief that it is finally over. As Cesar so often says throughout the novel, “in lak-ech”–“I understand you.” And how wonderful it feels to be seen–and to have Yamilet and Bo have a happy ending in spite of it all.
While this book is technically a happily-ever-after, I’m still grappling with the fact that queer people need to prove that they’d prefer to die rather than live as a disowned child before their parents are willing to reconsider their strongly-held notions of sexuality. Take from this what you will, but I still recommend this read, despite its difficult content.