When genderfluid Zo moves in next door to Libby and her evangelical Christian family in rural Tennessee, their unlikely friendship changes Libby’s life.
Libby, who has five younger siblings, has little exposure to life outside her family’s isolated home, where her father’s word is law. She’s prepared to fulfill her duty of marrying young and bearing children, even if she’s beginning to realize that’s not what she wants. Things change when Zo’s family moves into the neighborhood and the two teens strike up a friendship. Zo’s family, liberal and fully supportive of Zo’s genderfluidity, are the antithesis of Libby’s family. When Libby’s parents cease contact with their neighbors, Libby must decide whether to obey her parents or maintain her friendship. Crucially, neither teen attacks the other’s beliefs or way of life; instead, Zo gently challenges Libby’s teachings about a woman’s subservience. Although the somewhat stiff narration alternates between Libby’s and Zo’s perspectives, the story belongs to Libby as she questions what she’s been taught (“The only way I’ve ever been is the way I’ve been told to be”). Disappointingly, readers don’t gain much insight into Zo’s genderfluidity and are never introduced to Zo’s personal pronouns (Libby presumes she/her/hers). The primary cast assumes a white default except for Zo’s friend Claire, a Thai-American transgender girl.
Despite some issues, the novel opens important conversations about faith, family, independence, and identity. (Fiction. 13-16)