Please don’t read the official blurb, it gives away way too much.
When we meet Janesse in 1980, she’s fourteen, moving with her mom and siblings from Indiana to New Jersey after her parents’ divorce and her mom’s subsequent breakdown. Over the years, we get to witness her first kiss, her first love, her first time with a woman, her first broken heart… while she tries to find her place in life despite her mother’s homophobia, despite her own struggle to understand her sexuality. Janesse has a hard time coming to terms with her attraction to both men and women, and the people she meets as she grows up and after that, as an adult, both friends and lovers, play a huge part in her getting over her hang-ups.
This book is sold as romance but to me, it’s more of a coming of age novel. The romance is a big part of the story, yet it’s first and foremost a story of growth, both literally and emotionally. Anne Shade does a great job of describing the complexities of life on various levels, from sexuality not being straightforward to a parent breaking up the family while not necessarily being the bad guy.
Janesse is an interesting character, who tries to do the right thing and keeps making mistakes, in a very human way. The secondary cast Shade writes around her brings a lot to the story, from Janesse’s sister and brother and the rest of the family to the woman who takes her under her wing, mentoring her both sexually and professionally, to her best friends Nikki and Justin, a girl who looks like a boy and a boy no one can resist, to Nikki’s moms, to her roommates at Spelman College, where she thrives, surrounded by other driven Black women, to the love of her life. Even the smallest character has a real personality, each adding substance to Janesse’s life and to the story.
I enjoyed the story a lot for about two-thirds of the book, then I struggled to stay in for a while. Janesse’s interrogations felt repetitive and I didn’t always feel the character growth. It got better again, however. And this may say more about me than about the book, but I didn’t feel the chemistry between Janesse and Justin the way I did with the women in her life.
As this book follows Janesse from her teens to her fifties, there is more than one romance on the way, though only one is true romantic love. I really liked not knowing where the story would take me and who Janesse would end up with (don’t read the blurb!), and I wouldn’t like to spoil it for you by saying too much. Grab this book and find out for yourself.