Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray/9 May 2017

Edition: eBook

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31449227-ramona-blue

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Ramona-Blue-Julie-Murphy/dp/0062418351/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515917597&sr=8-1

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ramona-blue-julie-murphy/1124363416#/

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

This book has content warnings for mild racism (not condoned), mild heterosexism (not condoned), one acemisic line, and natural disasters.

Ramona Blue is a book that is important to me personally because of its questioning rep. There are so, so few books out there that have a character questioning their sexuality and end the book being okay with continuing to question, and as someone who primarily IDs as bi but isn’t 100% certain if it fits and is still questioning, I really loved this. I loved how she was taking the time to figure herself out; she acknowledged who she knew she liked at that moment in time, she acknowledged some identities that could potentially fit her, but she didn’t force herself to choose one just for the sake of having a label. And that’s okay. If she decides on a label she thinks fits later, she’ll probably take it as quickly as she took on the label of “lesbian” before realizing she liked Freddie, too.

As someone who is demisexual, I also liked that we had an on-page and named demisexual character. I do kind of wish that we could have gone deeper into that because that was mostly left at “what is that?” and “exactly,” which is the most relatable thing ever, but just seeing the word on the page made me happy, and because the character is a side character I don’t mind quite as much that it wasn’t talked about a lot. It’s something I gloss over a lot too because people don’t understand it and it’s tiring to explain to people.

I really felt for Ramona when she felt the need to be the “adult” of the family. She was a high school student with multiple jobs and a pregnant sister whose boyfriend was an irresponsible loser, and she spent most of her energy trying to provide for her family and insisting that that was more important than her going to college or otherwise trying to find her own path. It’s frustrating to be that young with such high levels of responsibility on your shoulders, and while she had a lot of external encouragement to put herself first, she didn’t really get the same type of encouragement from the place where it mattered: her sister and her dad. I also really loved how their poverty from after Hurricane Katrina was shown; everything from saving to buy her new niece furniture to thrifting her prom dress and altering it with her sister were nice touches.

I also loved the swimming side plot. Because Ramona was so tied up in helping her family with everything, I really liked watching her discover something that she herself loved to do, even while it took her a bit to realize just how interested she was in it. It gave her some room to grow outside of the other people around her, and it also REALLY made me want to go swimming…

There was a lot of ignorance in relation to race and queerness in this book from minor characters, and because of the book’s setting it felt realistic and most of the time it wasn’t brushed off. Several characters express some really awkward remarks about mixed-race relationships (because Freddie is Black and Ramona is white), but they’re portrayed as awkward and racist in the text. Additionally, there is a scene where Freddie has to explain that he can’t take the same risks that Ramona can because he is FAR more likely to be shot than she is if they’re caught because of his race; Ramona does feel guilty after, and it does not happen again in the text.

There are also a handful of characters who aren’t very accepting of Ramona’s queerness, and those negative perceptions are portrayed as wrong. Additionally, there is a bunch of misunderstanding of her sexuality, especially from Freddie; Freddie did admit, though, that he hadn’t had many non-straight people in his life, and though he made several awkward comments he did appear to be actually trying to do better throughout the book. Though the lines were frustrating at the time they were spoken, I did appreciate the character growth and that he was okay with Ramona liking him and girls. There was one line spoken by Ramona in the book that was acemisic, implying that to be human is to want sex. It was only one line, but it’s still there and a little awkward.

One part of the book that I didn’t like so much was when Freddie kissed Ramona without her permission at first. Consent was present later in the book, which was very good, but it wasn’t at first and that was a little irritating.

Overall, I felt like this book was handled really well. It wouldn’t really be right to consider this book bi rep because it really isn’t; it’s very much questioning rep, which is something that we need more of. There are queer teenagers in the world who go through this same thing, and denouncing queer people in m/f relationships is really frustrating because it invalidates the queerness of those people. And those people are very much still queer, no matter who they are with.

Final rating: 4.5/5 stars

5 thoughts on “Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

  1. Angela @ Books of a Shy Girl

    Love this review and I agree with you about the questioning part. I’m 17 and I don’t know anything about my sexual orientation and I think asexual people are as normal as everyone else 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It really frustrates me sometimes how everyone gets so caught up on whether a character has a label by the end of a book or not. I get being frustrated by the “I just don’t like labels” trope, but for someone like Ramona who is actually not sure where she fits and doesn’t know what label she wants to use yet, I don’t think we should be pushing the message that she NEEDS to pick a label. We really need to let teens know that it’s okay to not know where they stand — it’s totally normal!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

      Liked by 1 person

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