Let me start with a quick summary of Just Girls published by Bella Books and written by the award-winning author, Rachel Gold: brilliant, brilliant and all kinds of brilliant.

Just Girls is an insightful and thought-provoking book laced with a pinch of humor, lots of compassion and engaging characters. After all of the advances in gay & lesbian rights in the US over the past years it tackles the next frontier of LGBTQIA rights, the rights of trans women who have been marginalized and all too often vilified by the lesbian community as well as the heterosexual world. Written from the points of view of both a lesbian ally and a trans woman, it encompasses the whole gamut of our LGBTQIA community.

The set up of the story is pure genius. It engages the reader from the outset: Jess Tucker, an out cisgender lesbian, stands in line to grab some food at college when she hears some girls sharing the rumor that there is a new trans girl somewhere in the dorms. To stop their mean and nasty comments Jess confronts them saying it’s her they’re talking about. No biggie, she thinks. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way. Enter: Fully transitioned, closeted trans woman Ella, a slender, beautiful girl, who gets her share of turned heads and wolf whistles. We learn that Ella is scared–with good reason–of transphobia even in the LGBTQIA community. These two girls end up on a journey where they explore themselves and gender theory, make good friends, encounter prejudice and even violence from straight and lesbian quarters, and find likely and unlikely support. In between this roller-coaster of events and emotions there are quiet moments of introspection and tender emotions, all of which is delivered with a compelling politically engaged undercurrent.

Lest you think that this novel is full of strident preachiness, political correctness, and bleak despair let me add a few words about Rachel Gold’s masterful skills as an accomplished storyteller. The book is written with a sure-footed and almost magical lightness, where dark moments are balanced with light ones full of compassion and love. The very beginning of the novel is an impressive example of how Gold, or rather one of her characters, addresses serious points with humor and sets the tone for what is to come:

“Cisgender: When you were born, if the doctor looked at you and said ‘It’s a girl!’ and later as you grew up you thought ‘Hey, I’m a girl.’

Transgender: If the doc said ‘It’s a boy!’ and later you realized ‘Hey, I’m a girl’ (or vice versa).”

There is one thing which bugged me in such a great book: Unfortunately the epub-ebook has some formatting issues and a few errors which should have been noticed during editing. Fortunately, Gold’s writing style out-dazzles this and is like a great wine: a beautiful blend of different emotions and different people told with depth, and complexity. It is a richly layered novel, which leaves the reader enthralled and wanting more of this exquisite concoction.

 I dedicate this review to the memory of the late Eileen Taylor, a woman and a lesbian. May you rest in peace.

 

Just Girls
By Rachel Gold
Bella Books
Paperback, 9781594934193, 272 pp.
November 2014

 



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