Monday, July 15, 2013

Lemon Reef by Robin Silverman

Publisher:       Bold Strokes Books

Seldom does a book with so few pages, approximately 250, contain so many topics.  Childhood friendships, sexuality, family relationships, first love, coming out, child endangerment and murder twine around each other creating this story.  The wonder is that Robin Silverman is able to do this in an effective manner without confusing the reader completely.

Jenna Ross is called back to her hometown after the death of her childhood friend and first lover Del Soto is ruled an accidental drowning.  There are people who question that because Del was an excellent diver and she was not getting along well with her husband.  As Jenna investigates the incidents in the present, they conjure up stories from the past she shared with Del.  Flashback scenes explore the relationship that existed between Jenna and Del, while the current scenes involve solving the mystery of what happened to Del and the effort to save her daughter Khila.

Lemon Reef is a complex story.  It ties together themes of poverty, abuse and sexual discovery with murder.  At times that makes reading the story difficult.  There is so much going on in the book that issues are watered down.  In the beginning of the book the pacing is uneven and the timeline seems to be confused, but these problems disappear as the story goes on.  There are also a number of extraneous scenes that don’t add to the story, but lengthen it and sometimes get in the way.  Taking those out would make the story more powerful and to the point.

This isn’t an easy book to read because it touches on a number of painful topics.  Del suffers from abuse most of her life, first from her family and then from her husband.  She has to deal with that as she and Jenna try to come to grips with their sexuality.  The girls present a study in contrasts that are too familiar to many people.  Del decides to suppress her homosexuality and try to fit into a world where she really isn’t comfortable, while Jenna takes on the struggle to fight for who she is and try to exist in that same world.  There is an inevitable sense of doom that hangs over their young love.  Many lesbians and gays can identify totally with what the girls go through.

Lemon Reef is not a depressing book however.  It’s thoughtful and it’s instructive and it’s an interesting story.  Sometimes it cuts close to the bone with the emotions it exposes, but ultimately it’s a positive story.  Younger people who read it may not understand the angst in the book.  In this time when things are beginning to change rapidly for gay people, it’s easy to forget what life was like not so long ago.  This isn’t exactly light reading, but it’s good reading and it deserves a chance.

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