*This review will contain spoilers!*
‘When they say being gay is a choice, they’re wrong. The only choice is whether you act on your feelings or not.’
‘The night Sarah and Ben showed up out of the blue. You should’ve known or suspected something was wrong.’
Is it just me, or is something uncomfortably jarring about these first two sentences? I had to reread them four or five times before I could get past it. I can’t comprehend why anyone would choose to start a book like this. At least it establishes the enigma: an enigma which I found entirely predictable, and took far too long to be revealed…
When we join Alyssa, she’s on a plane. She’s leaving her hometown, going to live with the mother who abandoned her. It’s all because of her ex-girlfriend, Sarah. The girl who broke her heart and destroyed her life.
Carly attempts to be welcoming, but their relationship is strained. Alyssa’s dad’s judgmental attitude has rubbed off on her, and Alyssa can’t help but look for evidence to prove his accusations that she’s a prostitute. She claims to be an exotic dancer and a personal trainer, but her luxurious house is worth millions. Exotic dancers earn a lot, but they don’t earn THAT much.
Alyssa needs to keep her mind occupied. She can’t stop thinking about Sarah, experiencing her heartbreak again and again, so she thinks a job will help her stay busy. But because of who her mother is, no one wants to hire her. The owner of the local cafe would rather be rushed and understaffed than take Alyssa on.
‘No one’s going to hire me, and the irony is, it’s not because I’m gay.’
But Alyssa works hard to prove herself, and she winds up with a job anyway. Working alongside Finn, Alyssa can feel herself beginning to fall for her co-worker. Finn’s harsh and rude, but she intrigues Alyssa in a way she can’t understand.
‘Finn’s face materializes in my head. She isn’t beautiful in a classic way, like Sarah. Finn has that gorgeous skin and hair and those eyes. I could lose myself in those bottomless eyes.’
As their relationship heats up, so does the weather. High fire warning signs litter the mountain near Carly’s house, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be smooth sailing for long…
While I appreciated what Julie Anne Peters did for YA lesbian representation with ‘She Loves You, She Loves You Not…’, I hated her attitude towards the bisexual characters. We learn that the reason Alyssa and Sarah broke up is because she cheated on her with their mutual friend, Ben. I had problems with this for many reasons:
- Alyssa seemed disgusted by the idea that Ben wasn’t gay. PEOPLE CAN BE BISEXUAL!
- Not all bisexuals are cheaters. This is an overused and utterly offensive trope.
- Similarly, not all bisexuals are deceptive. The two of them were sneaking around for MONTHS, which is ridiculous.
- Ben says: “At first, I didn’t care about her doing both of us, but then it started to get to me.” Representing bisexuals as overly sex-crazed is also damaging.
- Sarah is only 14. Her sexuality isn’t a huge problem when you accept the fact that she’s underage.
Then there’s Alyssa’s attitude towards Finn, which was also problematic. Not only do we have that stunningly detailed description quoted above (sarcasm!), she’s very presumptuous. Within seconds of meeting Finn she thinks of her as a ‘dyke’. Despite Finn’s protests Alyssa is convinced she’s gay… She just doesn’t know it yet.
If she doesn’t know or doesn’t want to accept it, it’s not up to Alyssa to force her into it!
There were also endless descriptions of waitressing. It’s nice to have a protagonist with a job, because a lot of teenagers need to work, but pages and pages of serving is just yawn-inducing.
However, it wasn’t all bad. Towards the end of the book, when Alyssa and Finn’s relationship actually started, I was rooting for them. You don’t often get happy endings for lesbian love stories, so it’s almost impossible not to feel emotionally invested. I also thought it was a brave – if bittersweet – decision to leave Alyssa and her father estranged. She had to go and live with Carly after he found out she was gay, and he couldn’t come to terms with it. Sadly, that’s the realistic experience for a lot of LGBT+ teens with homophobic parents.
If I wasn’t bisexual, I probably wouldn’t have been so enraged by Julie Anne Peters’ treatment of her characters. It’s nice to read a YA novel with a lesbian protagonist who’s so unapologetic, even if Alyssa is infuriating at times. I’m definitely interested in reading more of Julie Anne Peters’ writing in the future, but ‘She Loves You, She Loves You Not…’ was probably not the best starting point for me.