Friday, April 06, 2018

Teen/YA Review: Ramona Blue

I've been hearing rave reviews of Ramona Blue, a YA novel by Julie Murphy, ever since its release almost a year ago. I finally found the time to listen to it on audio, and it was so worth waiting for! I loved every minute of it, and I loved Ramona, and I miss her now that the book is finished.

Seventeen-year old Ramona is over six feet tall, has eye-catching blue hair, and lives in the tiny coastal town of Eulogy, Mississippi. When Hurricane Katrina hit the area when Ramona was five years old, she and her family were forced to move into a FEMA trailer. Twelve years later, she, her Dad, and her older sister, Hattie, still live in that trailer; her mother left after the hurricane and works in the casino nearby. Summer has just ended in Eulogy, so all the summer people renting houses have left town, including Grace. Ramona and Grace had an idyllic summer together, but Ramona is wondering if their relationship will last with the separation. Besides, Grace still hasn't admitted to her family or anyone else that she is gay. That's not a problem for Ramona - she knows she likes girls and so does her family, friends, and classmates. In Ramona's uncertain world, that is one thing she's sure of.

As Ramona is finishing her paper route on her bike and missing Grace, she is greeted by a wonderful surprise: kind-hearted Agnes and her grandson, Freddie, are back in town - for good this time. Ramona and Freddie were childhood playmates every summer when the family vacationed in Eulogy, and now that Agnes has retired, they have moved to the seaside town. As school begins, Ramona now has something to look forward to, with Freddie back. At the same time, though, Ramona's life feels like it is shrinking - and her opportunities with it. Hattie is pregnant, her good-for-nothing boyfriend is moving into the tiny trailer, and Ramona's fierce love and protection of her family makes her feel like she has no option but to stay home and help her sister. As her senior year continues and her classmates all make plans for interesting lives, Ramona feels more and more trapped. She's also confused as her feelings for Freddie seem to morph into more than friendship - how can she feel that way about him when she knows she likes girls?

I was hooked on this audio book from the very first chapter, with its captivating young narrator who had just the right touch of a Mississippi accent. Ramona is one of those YA literary characters that feels like an old friend. She is so strong for those around her and sure of herself in some ways, but confused and uncertain in other ways. She feels very real. Her new confusion about her sexuality is a theme in the story, but it's just one part of a moving and cohesive whole. This novel is also about family, friendship, racism, figuring out your place in the world, and the ways that poverty and circumstance can seem to control your life. Ramona is a resilient person, but sometimes she feels as if she has no choices and is cut off from the things her classmates just consider a normal part of life, like college. This insightful novel explores all of these issues and more, but at its heart, it is an engrossing story about an extraordinary young woman and her family and friends. I loved every minute of this audio book and rooted for Ramona to figure it all out. This was one of my favorite YA novels read in a long time.

432 pages, Balzer + Bray

Listen to a sample of the audio book.

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  1. This one sounds like a good one, especially for middle grade kids here in Santa Barbara who just survived our debris flow.

    1. It's more for teens & YA, but it should be fine for older middle-grade readers. yes, that is a whole other aspect of the story besides the issues I mentioned - recovering after a devastating natural disaster. The author specifically set the novel in MS because after Katrina, all the focus was on New Orleans and LA, but MS was hit just as hard.

  2. Something about Ramona (from your review) strikes me as a whimsical character. I can't wait to pick this one up!

    1. There is definitely a bit of whimsy in the story...though also plenty of serious issues, too. I think you will like it! And it's nice to "see" you here! Haven't heard from you in a while - I will come by your blog to see what's new.