JUST JULIET by Charlotte Reagan is a book I won in a contest in return for an honest review. I always wonder about this almost standard tagline. Would I write that I am about to submit a dishonest review? Probably not.
This is probably in the YA genre. Some who follow that genre might be not happy with the explorations of gay sexuality, both male and female, or some of the “graphic” language used. I put that word in quotes because I can’t tell what language is considered graphic anymore. The language used is not inappropriate, it is not salacious, it fits well with the story and characters, but some might say they would not want their young ones (13 and below) to read it. Fair enough. It just means more adults will have to read what their children are reading. That’s more sales for Charlotte Reagan.
Lena is a high school senior. She socializes with a group that might be considered outsiders. Grace, a friend and fellow high school senior, is a married single parent who has some contact with her baby’s father; their relationship is not adversarial. Lacey is Lena’s best friend and is a self-styled, self-identified bitch. Lena has drifted into a long-standing relationship with Quinton because the two have known each other since grade school. Theirs is not a sexual relationship beyond mild petting. Juliet is the new girl in school, a transfer from a private school not far from Grant High, Lena’s school. Juliet is beautiful but cold and distant. She keeps new possible friends at arm’s length as she tries to get over a disappointing past at her old school which centered on her sexual “coming out.”
Lena, car driver, gives Juliet a ride to her home to find a very different type of family relationship that, while strange, is warmer than Lena’s home life. Juliet’s mother is dead; she lives with her father, James, and cousin, Lakyn, who is in a very openly gay relationship with Scott, a popular football athlete from the school that Juliet left. Juliet’s father is comfortable acting as a guardian to Lakyn. His nephew’s openly expressive gay relationship is at the point that Scott lives more at the house with Juliet, James, and Lakyn than he does in his own home. James knows daughter Juliet is gay, recognizes that Lena might be Juliet’s new love interest and is accepting of the fact that Lena is also staying more at his home than her own. Lena spends time trying to figure out if she is lesbian or bisexual.
All of this action and discussion of declaring true sexual orientation is played out in one year, the senior year of high school. Relationships have begun, matured, and might end as future plans for study at widely separated colleges and universities begin to be set.
So the entire novel is spent in discussions of sexual orientation. There are poor and untasteful jokes told by characters in fits of anger or annoyance. So the novel is not politically correct. But those same remarks are what happens in everyday life and they do the job for the writer in illustrating challenges the gay community faces. The value of this novel is heavily dependent on viewpoints, preconceptions, prejudices, and biases the reader brings. Because I feel so ambivalent about the issues raised, I could only appreciate the novel as a story well told. I will read more by this author.