Jennifer McMahon, May 2008. Traditional YA lesbian problem novels tell the stories of teen girls who fall madly in love with their female friends, only to face serious consequences when parents and classmates find out. In recent years, however, the trend is toward books featuring protagonists whose sexuality is only one aspect of their complicated lives.
Despite its 2008 copyright, My Tiki Girl is a reversion to the problem novel. Its heroine, Maggie, was pretty and popular until the car accident that killed her mother. Now she wears a leg brace and feels like an outcast until new girl Dahlia asks her to join her rock band. Maggie develops a crush; Dahlia reciprocates; and the two have a secret and joyous relationship until Dahlia’s mother walks in on them half-dressed.
Until this point, My Tiki Girl, while formulaic, is charming and different. It features appealing secondary characters like Dahlia’s younger brother Jonah, who believes he is a wizard, and funny portrayals of teens smoking clove cigarettes and obsessing about Sylvia Plath. But when the girls’ secret is discovered by Leah, Dahlia’s mother, the plot takes some bizarre turns. Leah has been portrayed throughout the book as a cool hippie mom who shoplifts with the girls and creates doll alter-egos for them. Her reaction to the girls’ love affair (“Abomination! Pervert!”) is, then, wildly out of character. It doesn’t get better from there: the last chapters of the book involve a car accident that too obviously parallels the one in which Maggie’s mother was killed as well as a makeout session between Maggie and Joey, a brain-damaged boy who lives in a cave. Recommended only for libraries where authors like Nancy Garden and Julie Anne Peters are popular.
(Originally published in GLBTRT Newsletter, Spring 2008.)