So, is femme a sexual orientation or a gender presentation?
Author Bach wraps this complicated question around the affable protagonist, Sofie, a “C-student” high schooler living in the real town of Surrey, located near Vancouver, British Columbia. What she looks forward to after high school is life with her star-athlete boyfriend, Paul, who pledges to take care of her by working at the family auto dealership even as she vaguely wishes to become a chef. Sofie’s aspirations—and life—change when her English teacher pairs her with Clea Thompson, whom Sofie describes as a “totally straight-A student” intent on winning a scholarship. Clea is also a mixed-race, out lesbian who leads the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Refreshingly, the author takes their racial difference as a matter of course, not a literary public-service announcement about interracial relationships. Nor does she frame Sofie’s changing views on her shifting relationships with Paul, Clea, and even her mom with heavy-handedness: Sofie’s shift regarding her present love and future life come from a healing touch, a clarifying word, and some tough conversations.
The novel isn’t a treatise about queer identities, so it doesn’t offer an answer on what this complicated concept means. But it’s a great introduction to how gender identity can be a segue for a love that, even in 2015, cannot speak its name. (Fiction. 14-17)