Katie Heaney’s Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date first came on my radar towards the end of 2014; it was a finalist for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards in the humor category. By the age of 25, Heaney has had a lot of things: college degrees, a social life, general happiness…but no boyfriend. Ever (and not for lack of trying). The book’s subtitle is extremely misleading — she’s gone on plenty of dates, makeout sessions included, and was even in the unfortunate position of having of one potential boyfriend who kept stringing her along without committing — but Heaney has never been serious enough with anyone to consider having sex with them. Hers is a book about social and emotional awkwardness; her friends are always several steps ahead of her. They seem to intuitively know all of the rules.
At 35, Nicole Hardy was in a different place entirely. She was raised to be devoutly Mormon, and as a woman who had not yet married, she had also never had sex. Unlike Never Have I Ever, Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin grapples with some of life’s bigger questions, especially those relating to deeply held religious beliefs. Unlike Heaney, Hardy has dated. Quite a bit, in fact. The fact that she had to abstain from sex until marriage was never a question, but she did acknowledge her desires and seek out information. She even dated outside her religion, something that put her partially at odds with her faith (if she wanted to get married in a temple — which she did — she’d have to marry another Mormon). For a long time, especially in her twenties, she thought she could wait. As her twenties became her thirties, her natural sexual desires grew stronger, and she remained unmarried, that religiously-mandated waiting game started to become unbearable.
For all intents and purposes, these are two middle-class white women who both seem to have come from fairly stable middle-class backgrounds. They’re each dealing with different subject matter but are similar in that they’re late bloomers, so to speak, in one area of life that’s important to them.
But oh, what a difference a decade and some actual life experience makes.
Time | 12:58 p.m.
Place | George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX
Eating | A really disgusting airport cheese pizza
Doing | Flying back home after a frigid couple of days in Minneapolis. I went from 70 degree weather to -6 degree weather. Remind me never to do that again.
Jamming | Sleater-Kinney! I saw them last night:
Travel Reading | Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson; Apples are from Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins; Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed ed. by Meghan Daum; Reeling Through Life by Tara Ison
Loving | I stopped at Magers & Quinn Booksellers to get out of the cold yesterday, where they were selling blind dates with books. There were several wrapped books with short descriptions to choose from. I wanted about five of them, but this is what I ended up choosing. I’m eager to see what it is:
Discovering | Windy -6° weather feels like a billion knives are stabbing you in the face.
Planning | Thai food and beer for Oscar nominee-watching tonight.
What have you been up to?
Years of hard work are about to pay off for Richard and Ann. Richard is a chef who’s just weeks away from opening his own restaurant in Los Angeles with his business partner, Javi, a hotshot chef with a flair for culinary experimentation. Ann is also on the brink of professional success. She’s a cutthroat lawyer at a big firm and thinks the time has finally arrived for her to make partner. For years, she’s put in long hours and tried to succeed not only to rise through the ranks of the firm, but to support her husband as he paid his dues. It’s taken a personal toll — she doesn’t even like being a lawyer — but both of them know that the restaurant will give them a new type of freedom.
Overnight, thanks to Javi’s unscrupulous actions, their dream crumbles and they find themselves flying to an island in the middle of the South Pacific to get away from all their troubles. They wind up on a remote atoll run by Loren, a drunken Frenchman. For a couple thousand a day, they get an upgraded Robinson Crusoe experience: a small private hut with no electricity, phone, or internet connection. The only other people of significance on the island are Titi and Cooked, two locals who are betrothed to one another and run the daily operations; Dex Cooper, the aging frontman of the rock band Prospero; and Wende, Dex’s young and attractive muse.
Warning: This post is spoilery.
Readers of Malinda Lo’s revamped Cinderella story, Ash, will initially find themselves in familiar territory: Ash’s father unexpectedly dies and leaves her in the hands of her cruel new stepmother. Since Ash is expected to pay off her father’s numerous debts, she becomes a servant in her stepmother’s household and is expected to tend to her two stepsisters’ every need. Gone are all the comforts of home; all she has left of the past is a book of fairy tales that her mother used to read to her. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted the fairies to bring her mother back to life; after her father’s death, she wants nothing more than for the fairies to take her away into their world. When a brooding fairy, Sidhean, appears, it looks like she just might get that wish.
Here is where the story breaks away from tradition and introduces a new twist. There’s still a big ball in which the prince’s heart is stolen by the gloriously dressed stranger no one’s ever heard of. But the prince falling in love with Ash at first sight is all a moot point, because sparks are flying between Ash and Kaisa, the King’s lead huntress. Meanwhile, Sidhean is in agony because he’s been waiting for Ash for years.
“Mama, are you a virgin?”
When readers first meet Jean “Stevie” Stevenson, she’s an innocent Black girl growing up in 1960s Southside Chicago. In the early 1960s, when Stevie is still young enough to do as she’s told without question, she soaks in a lot of different messages about her culture and the way she looks: her hair should be straightened and she mustn’t speak in her peers’ casual vernacular. She gets a little older, and now there are skin lightening creams to consider (there’s also that saying, “coffee will make you black,” to keep kids away from the beverage: the last thing anyone wants to be is dark-skinned). Her mother is strict and religious, intent on keeping her daughter as sheltered as possible so that she can have a shot at moving up in the world; there’s little room for Stevie to explore ideas on her own terms.
Stevie doesn’t have any friends, but when miscommunication occurs and she naively admits to something, she suddenly has the attention of two popular girls that her mother doesn’t approve of. This is the first step in Stevie’s coming-of-age story. The rest is set against a backdrop of rapid social change and political awareness; Stevie and her peers get to experience the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in middle and high school. It’s a nightmare Stevie’s straightlaced mother, who cannot wrap her head around all these radical ideas floating around in her daughter’s head, but it’s an important part of Stevie’s life. Suddenly, Black is beautiful.