McGhee’s debut is a coming-of-age tale following a girl who clarifies her notions of love, sexuality, and religion, all while her unorthodox family continues to grow.
Melissa Stark’s sexual attraction to her stepbrother, Donnie Jackson, is irrefutable. Turns out the feelings are mutual for the teenagers, and the two readily experiment with one another. They initially keep the relationship a secret from Melissa’s mom, Donna (the teens lost their fathers and Donnie’s mother years ago). But Donna has problems all her own: A sex act at work costs her her job, so she, with help from her supportive ex-boss, starts her own company at home. Though happy with Donnie, Melissa begins questioning her belief in God, predominantly stemming from religious fundamentalists’ condemnation of all extramarital sex. This leads to her recurrent anti-establishment “tirades,” generally regarding the U.S. government (e.g., some in Congress voted against the Marital Rape Act). She finds solace in her new boyfriend, Brandon Chu, while Donnie dates someone else. Their small family soon expands in unexpected ways. A few relatives, for example, have surprising links to other people, creating a larger family that, even if eccentric, manages to thrive on love and openness. Much of McGhee’s novel is erotica, involving numerous scenes of Melissa with Donnie and later with Brandon. The scenes are explicit and engrossing, primarily as they’re indicative of narrator Melissa’s candidness. Her rants are well-written arguments on things like society’s double standards, e.g., sexually empowered women are “sluts” and men, studs. These are sometimes too long, however: Single paragraphs carry on for myriad pages despite Melissa’s making her point within the first page. Startling familial connections in the latter half rely heavily on coincidence but effectually center on a strong, united family. And despite the graphic sex scenes, the story is often tender; Melissa recalls the first time she and Donnie shared bodily fluids—tears they shed when learning Donnie’s father had died.
A story that stimulates on multiple levels even when it’s verbose.