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.
Ramona Blue is a story about family, sisterhood, questioning our identity, and figuring out how to prioritize ourselves. There are so many hidden layers to this book that I can’t possibly write a review to talk about all the things I loved. I listened to this on audiobook, and let me tell you it was a different experience entirely. The narrator made the story come alive with the accents and inflection. Normally I listen to the book pretty quickly, but I really wanted to savor my time with this book. And one of the best parts of the book was how Ramona questions her identity and how she doesn’t know about what she might label herself.
And it is messy. People get hurt and Ramona wades through her own confusion. And this gets to the heart of why I loved the book. I know for a lot of people it can be cut and dry about how they identify, and Ramona thinks that’s where she is. Until she isn’t sure. This middle place is extremely important, especially for teens who could be struggling with similar issues. I know this representation meant a great deal to me.
But above it all, what I loved was how much of a bigger picture we get in the book. Ramona is more than her identity. She struggles with her devotion, love, and resentment of her sister. All while balancing her unstable, but loving, mother (who thinks her queerness is a phase), and her family’s life post Katrina. Her whole family dynamic, and relationship with her sister, was really a pivotal piece of the story. She has a lot of doubts, changing opinions, and Ramona Blue is ultimately a book about Ramona trying to figure out her own place in the world, and her own life.
And that’s what I love about Ramona Blue. You can’t cleanly say, ‘This was the main plot’. There are all these tendrils of story, of identity, of life.
Ramona Blue is a nuanced book, full of depth, discussion about poverty, teen motherhood, family relationships that can cage us in, and our struggle to choose ourselves. It is the kind of book I wish I found as a teen to just prove how much the characters in our stories don’t have it together. They don’t have all the answers. They make mistakes and they, most importantly, change their mind. I’m not talking they used to believe the propaganda in their dystopia and now they are a freedom fighter. I’m talking about when you think you can count on something about yourself, and it changes, when you hurt your family, when you let yourself be boxed in, and when you need to fight for yourself.