Monday, May 22, 2017

Ramona Blue is Amazing

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Published 2017 by Balzar + Bray/Harper Collines

432 pages, contemporary fiction.

I usually don't summarize books in my reviews, because, well, it just doesn't interest me, either to read or to write.  But I do get that people who don't already know much about a book that's being reviewed might want some context for whatever response I'm writing.  I finally realized that I can do what others do and copy the Goodreads blurb onto my reviews.  So here's what it says about Julie Murphy's follow-up to the much-loved Dumplin':

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

And then here's what I have to say after devouring this book in well under 24 hours:

I love this book so much.

I love that it doesn't shy away from poverty, from race, from sexuality, from crappy parents and crappy luck and all the things that can make a person feel less-than, other, worthless and hopeless. And I love that it faces all of this and offers love, hope, and courage, without being false or over-simplifying anything. 

That's the scope of the book, but I also love the details. This book is dripping with specificity. I am not a reader who spends much time visualizing; if anything I tend to skim over descriptive parts to get back to character and plot. But I can see the partitioned bedrooms of Ramona's trailer, feel the humidity that curls her hair, smell the bar where she works. I know what Hattie and Tyler look like, how Freddie's voice sounds, and what it feels like to be hugged by Agnes. I have never been anywhere near the locale of this book, but I feel like I know it now. 

One concept that stands out for me in this book is respect. Every character is imbued with such humanity. Even the ones who are closer to bad guys than good--Tyler, the girls' mom, Grace and Viv--are still treated as people, complex in their failures and mistakes. There's a random kid who keeps hounding Ramona to purchase a yearbook page, and he is a more fully rounded character than the protagonist of half the universe's novels. 

In her acknowledgements, Murphy talks about how long it took her to write this book. I'm not worried. She can move at a glacial pace if the result is this kind of book. There's nothing tossed off or jammed in; everything is just as it should be, and I can only imagine the amount of work it takes to do that. 

Oh--terrific story, too, in case you were wondering.  And it almost--almost--made me want to go swim some laps.

all the stars/5 stars

What books have you read that have been far outside your lived experience, yet made you feel like you could completely relate to the characters?


  1. Yay!!! I am so happy that this book is getting so much love. Lately, I have been reading a bunch of #OwnVoices books, many of which were written by Muslims and/or people from South Asia or the Middle East. I found them very enlightening.
    Sam @ WLABB

  2. I’ve seen this book around, but I didn’t know what it was about. I might have to check it out!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. I just requested the book from my library! You sold me!


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