I took a YA lit class in grad school with David Levithan. One of the first things he said was to make the details in our writing as specific as possible. More detailed. More specific examples. These were two phrases, I became accustomed to seeing on my personal essays. It’s one of the lessons that I try to keep in the very front of my brain while writing. It’s also a lesson that no one needs to teach Julie Murphy, apparently. Because Damn! Ramona Blue, the latest book from the author who brought us Dumplin’ and Side Effects May Vary, is one of the most specific, detailed, and unique books I’ve ever read.
As with people in real life, Ramona’s history looms large over her present struggles. She was a small child when Hurricane Katrina dramatically changed her family. She’s been a kind of surrogate parent to her little sister, who is now pregnant. She likes girls. She wants to leave town, but doesn’t know if she can now that her sister needs her more than ever.
These are the things she knows. But there’s another part of her history, that makes her start questioning the things she feels most certain about – the return of her childhood friend, Freddie. Through Freddie, Ramona falls in love with swimming and discovers that she has a natural talent. But the feelings she develops for him, make her question her sexual identity.
See? A lot is going on in this story. But it all fits together and makes sense in the body of this six foot, blue haired teenage girl who is just trying to keep her life together and figure this whole growing up thing out.
Ugh. I loved Ramona – in case that hasn’t already become abundantly clear. Murphy wrote her in a way that made her strength and vulnerability very accessible to the reader. Her emotions, her heartbreaks – I feel like when I was reading I felt them too.
And Freddie … the friendship was incredibly sweet and the beyond friendship was so so so romantic.
Reading this book felt like a rollercoaster, because I never felt entirely sure where the story would end up. But I felt riveted every page. You should read it too – whoever you are – so we can talk about it!