By: Kate Gruetter
Today, finding a good romance book can be really difficult, especially if you’re looking for novels with more diverse or inclusive characters and plotlines. Despite living in a “progressive” time period, most books still resort to stereotypes, lame cliches, and awkward over-generalizations when writing characters from minority communities. However, there are some representative gems in the literary world, and Her Name in the Sky, by Kelly Quindlen, is one of them.
Her Name in The Sky follows best friends Baker and Hannah as their friend group navigates senior year at their religious high school. One night at a party, Baker kisses Hannah, and the two grapple to define their complex relationship with God and each other. The most powerful part of the novel by far is Quindlen’s impressive ability to maintain and capture the paradox of religious guilt mixed with unwavering adoration for the other. Though Hannah frequently pleads with God to “make it go away,” she cannot stop herself from caring about Baker and is constantly attempting to mend their friendship.
Additionally, Quindlen’s prose elevates the novel from a gay coming-of-age story to something truly mesmerizing and impactful. Though the book possesses religious elements, religion enhances the novel’s depth and complexity, rather than oversaturating it. Quindlen writes, “She thinks about Christ. How she’d like to lay everything down at his feet. ‘Here you go,’ she’d say, dropping everything down like a pile of wood.” The dialogue that Quindlen weaves into her book feels so natural; it draws you into every conversation. Suddenly, you are eighteen and part of Hannah’s friend group, watching the two struggle to love in an unaccepting environment. The author’s use of simple phrases to convey depth and yearning mirror Hannah and Baker’s desperation to love each other without angering God, portraying this need through questions about being “wrong.” Though the term “wrong” is simple and feels too general, Quindlen’s incorporation of it into her dialogue is anything but, adding a sense of raw emotion to her characters’ exchanges.
Quindlen’s representation of queer individuals without resorting to stereotypes or one-dimensional characters is refreshing. While each of her characters are fully fleshed out, Hannah and Baker are the most detailed, and the least defined by their sexualities. While the novel does center around their relationship and struggles with sexuality, it also explores the beauty of female friendship and the struggle to let go of tradition. Despite the book’s focus on a gay romance, it is not defined by this. Neither Hannah or Baker fall into traditional sapphic stereotypes seen in other works, and the novel possesses enough beautiful and loving elements to avoid being tragic and disparaging.
If you find yourself looking for a heart-warming and gut-wrenching read, try putting Her Name in the Sky into your Amazon cart or downloading it to your Kindle. You won’t regret it.