Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bazillion-Book-Selling Author Jodi Picoult Writes Lesbians: A Review of Sing You Home

Let me be upfront here. I downloaded this book onto my Kindle for one reason and one reason only: if a bestselling, straight lady author was going to take on gay lady issues, I needed to know if she could hack it. I needed to know how she was representing us to the Picoult cult of readers. 

Now, I have the utmost respect for Ms. Picoult - anyone who can sell that many books wins, no questions asked. And I've never been one to shy away from a good trashy/beach read (see the review of Sweet Valley Confidential below). But I have never, for some reason, been able to stomach Ms. Picoult's brand of writing. It just wasn't for me. But, with you, my dear readers, in mind, I decided I'd take one for the team. I'd read Sing You Home so you didn't have to!

So, can Jodi write lesbians? 

Surprisingly? Yes. 

Sort of. 

A very specific kind of lesbian, who we shall refer to as the "Ready for Prime Time Lesbian" (RFPTL).

Qualities of RFPTLs:

  • Pretty ladies who pass as straight ladies. Check!
  • Ladies who have previously dated men and therefore are not man haters? Check!
  • Ladies who obviously want to have babies, because that is what good ladies do even if they are lesbians? Check!
  • Femmes dating other femmes, or maybe one is androgynous kinda, but no butches? Check!
  • White. Obviously. Check!

Of course there are many more qualifications (please feel free to add them in the comments), but if you haven't been living under a rock lately, you know what kind of lesbian characters I'm talking about. 

Now, I know lots of lesbians who take umbrage with the fact that RFPTLs are the only ones portrayed in the media, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I respect Picoult's decision here. She's no Ilene Chaiken. She's a straight lady who writes, primarily, for other straight ladies. RFPTLs are "ready for prime time" precisely because they are so relatable to the audience. They aren't out there gender bending or rabble rousing. They are...familiar. Safe. And while that's a cultural problem many of us may choose to take on, Picoult isn't playing for our team. 

But she does support the team in Sing You Home. And she's obviously done her research. I kept waiting for the AHA! moment, when I'd read something so utterly inauthentic that I'd have an excuse to hurl the book against the wall, angrily pound out a post here at Literally Lesbian, and call it a day. 

But I didn't. I honestly believed that these characters were lesbians. In fact, both of them (because obviously there are only two lesbians in this world) reminded me of lesbians I've known, loved, or, let's be honest here, been. 

Which isn't to say this book won't make you, a real live lesbian, roll your eyes. These ladies put most U-Haulers to shame. But, overall, if you've got a high tolerance for RFPTLs, it might not be a bad book to pick up for a beach read or to give to your mom who is still processing your sexuality and the likelihood of you giving her grandchildren (I bought my mother a copy about five minutes after I finished reading it). At the same time, if you pass, you're really not missing anything groundbreaking. 


This book comes with a soundtrack of folksy songs written by Ms. Picoult. You can listen to them on her website or right on your iPad if you have one. 


A songwriter, Ms. Picoult is not. 

Zoe Baxter has spent ten years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true – she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare – one that takes away the baby she has already fallen for; and breaks apart her marriage to Max.
In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist – using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer’s patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa – a guidance counselor -- asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe’s surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.
Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle – until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor – Clive Lincoln – has vowed to fight the “homosexual agenda” that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child.
SING YOU HOME explores what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation – two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind – enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age?
Also – in a very unique move – readers will get to literally hear Zoe Baxter’s voice. I am collaborating with Ellen Wilber, a dear friend who is also a very talented musician, to create a CD of original songs, which will correspond to each of the chapters. This CD will be packaged with each hardcover book. So – literally – stay tuned!

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