Monday, July 22, 2019

Review - Redwood and Ponytail

Redwood and Ponytail
by K. A. Holt
Date: 2019
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: verse novel
Pages: 424
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Told in verse in two voices, with a chorus of fellow students, this is a story of two girls, opposites in many ways, who are drawn to each other; Kate appears to be a stereotypical cheerleader with a sleek ponytail and a perfectly polished persona, Tam is tall, athletic and frequently mistaken for a boy, but their deepening friendship inevitably changes and reveals them in ways they did not anticipate.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Minor Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

It's been a while since I read a book this long. But, being that this is a novel in verse, it reads fairly quickly.

Redwood and Ponytail is the story of two middle-school girls and their discovering of their sexuality. I enjoyed most of this story, but there are a couple of things that prevented me from really liking the book.

First, there's the issue of the audience not quite matching the writing. I can see how the author was in a tricky place here. This is supposed to be about two girls discovering they like girls. It's more likely for this to happen in middle school than in high school. However, the girls just don't read like 11- and 12-year-olds. Their internal thoughts are too adult, too poetic, and too wise. I kept having to remind myself that I was reading about young teenagers. One of the secondary characters, Becca, actually sounded more her age for most of the book (until the end when she started sounding overly mature, just like all the others). I'm not really sure if there's a way to fix this mismatch. Set the book in high school, and readers will wonder why Kate and Tam didn't realize they were gay earlier. Keep it in middle school, and readers will wonder why they speak like adult poets. It's a no-win situation.

Second, and probably far more problematic, is the fact that one character publicly outs another. Based on the acknowledgments, it appears that the author herself is gay... and so I would've expected this to be handled better. Now, I'm not gay myself, but even I know that it's a huge no-no to out another person. I just don't think this part of the story was satisfactorily addressed. Sure, in this case, it moved the plot along, and perhaps the person being outed wasn't that bothered by it. But, in not addressing the violation, it sort of condones the action; I'd worry that kids (because that's the intended audience) might think it's okay to out each other in front of the rest of their peers.

Some stuff I do like about this book are the switching points of view (even though there are places where the author breaks her own established convention in the formatting, which was a bit confusing), as well as the inclusion of the "chorus". This almost seems Shakespearean, with classmates Alex, Alyx, and Alexx sharing their observations on the drama going down between Tam and Kate.

And there is plenty of drama, driven by the colourful cast of characters. There's Kate's mom, an utterly superficial woman who seems to care more about her kitchen renovation than her daughter's happiness. There's Tam's mom, who's pretty much the opposite, almost smothering in her well-meaning attempts to be cool and relatable. There are Kate's cheerleading squad and her estranged sister. There are Tam's quirky neighbours and her best friend, Levi. All of these secondary characters, as well as the leads, drive the narrative forward, sometimes in interesting ways. I do kind of wish the storyline with Jill, Kate's sister, had a little more to it; that was one thread that sort of fizzled out when I thought it might be going somewhere more interesting.

I think, perhaps, I'm not the audience for this. I'm not sure how the poetic language is going to play with the intended audience (middle-school girls), but if they can get something out of the story, that's great. I just wish the issue of outing gay friends had been better dealt with; that part alone makes me hesitant to recommend this one overall.

Thank you to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs

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