Ms. B Reads: Music From Another World
February 3, 2020
Author: Robin Talley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tags: LGBTQ+, coming of age, punk rock, religious issues, family issues, growing up, romance
Release Date: 03/31/2020
I received Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
An enjoyable romp through 1970s LGBTQ+ San Francisco, Music From Another World is a historical fiction story told through the eyes (and letters) of two young girls deciding how far they’re willing to go to be themselves. The characters, settings, and ESPECIALLY the music in this book took me right back to the cool punk my 15-year-old self desperately wanted to be. Seriously, the soundtrack to this book is 🔥🔥🔥.
The story itself is told through a mix of letters and diary entries from two alternating perspectives. Tammy is a heavily-closeted lesbian trying to survive in Orange County with her evangelical gay-bashing family, while Sharon in San Francisco is coming to terms with the recent knowledge that her older brother is gay. The girls cross paths as pen pals through a school assignment, and their shared fascination with punk music turns a project into a true friendship at a time when both of them just might need it.
There were several things that worked well in this story, and a few things that didn’t. I expected the format of letters and diary entries to grow stale quickly, but for the most part I found I didn’t mind it. Sometimes the letters came across a bit stilted or awkward, especially when Sharon was recounting entire scenes with dialogue to Tammy. I also feel like the initial friendship between Tammy and Sharon lacked development. The pen pal program felt a bit like a convenient plot device to bring these characters together, and the development of the friendship felt a bit rushed and forced. I really liked Peter, and thought his character was the most developed and well-written. The adults in the story largely felt superfluous and, in some cases, cartoonishly stereotypical; something to be generally feared, and of no use to our teen heroines. I adored the scenes at the bookstore, marches, and punk concerts, though I could’ve used more vivid setting descriptions- especially as this book is geared toward an audience who definitely won’t have experienced 70s San Francisco.
I would also feel remiss if I didn’t point out that there are multiple instances of forced outing of multiple characters in this story, as well as negative reaction to some characters coming out. While there is obviously a historical context, I know these things can be triggering to some folks.
Overall, there was a lot of nostalgia in this book, and the story drew some clear modern parallels as many young LGBTQ+ people can relate to the difficulty of being accepted for who you are. A fun romp for the 15-year-old punk in all of us.