“Do you ever think there might be this huge worldwide conspiracy to convince us that our lives will be perfect if we just do what we’re supposed to do?”
What is this book about?
Tammy Larson is a closeted lesbian in an ultra-religious section of Orange County, California in 1977. She attends a strict Catholic high school, her uncle is a priest, and her aunt channels her vicious homophobia through organized campaigns. Sharon Hawkins attends a religious private school in San Francisco, and she’s a little less certain of who she is or who she likes. When the two girls are reluctantly paired up in a summer pen pal project, they bond over punk music and the feeling that neither of them really fit into their respective worlds, eventually finding strength in one another.
This book is for you if you’re craving a story that expertly weaves together LGBTQ+ history, punk music, family, politics and religion.
Content warnings: period-typical homophobia
Rep: lesbian mc, bisexual mc, mlm side characters, sapphic side characters
I’m not usually someone who willingly picks up historical fiction. When I got approved to review this ARC for Pine Reads Review and it came time to actually read it, I briefly wondered what I had been thinking requesting this book in the first place. (Of course, I eventually reminded myself of the amazing cover and committed myself entirely.) Regardless, reading Music from Another World was anything but a mistake resulting from a bout of NetGalley-requesting-frenzy.
From the first page, I was hooked. I wasn’t sure about the epistolary style of the novel, but I quickly found that I stopped even noticing it as I was further drawn into the story’s world. Dual POVs are often something I struggle reading, as well, and you know what? Robin Talley effortlessly combines Tammy and Sharon’s stories in such a way that I was constantly telling myself just one more chapter so I could see what happened in either girl’s life.
Tammy is as sympathetic of a character as you can get. She’s deep in the closet, her family unwittingly despises her and everyone like her, and she resorts to writing letters to Harvey Milk that she’ll never send because he’s the only person who gives her any semblance of hope. The entire time, I was rooting for her.
Sharon is a bit more complicated. I was often frustrated with her in the later parts of the novel because I was desperate for her to just figure out her feelings—but that’s probably the point. As in real life, we can’t expect people to have clear-cut answers about who they are and how they identify. It’s especially reasonable considering Sharon is living in the 1970s surrounded by homophobia. Talk about internalized self-hatred.
Again, I’m not someone who reads a lot outside of contemporary or fantasy, and I obviously was not alive in the 70s, but Talley creates a vivid world full of life that breathes with each page. I could feel the passion and excitement in San Francisco and in one of my favorite scenes of the book (that I will not mention at length here to save any spoilers), just as I could perfectly visualize the punk shows Sharon described in her diary and letters.
Overall… Music from Another World made me want to read more books like it, and if that’s not telling of a book’s compelling qualities, I’m not sure what is. Read this book if you want a sapphic historical YA romance.
Are there any YA books set in the 1970s that you love?
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