Recent history is so easy to forget.
Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters takes place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and this highlights how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. You see, while our protagonist Triinu is coming to terms with her sexuality, her home state Oregon is facing the potential implementation of a law that would make gay people…. not really people. I love books that combine history with the personal, and this is a book that does just that. In Triinu’s short four years in high school, she changes along with her country and state, and that, my friends, is beautiful.
I wish there were more books that take an honest look at lesbian and bisexual girls. I love how true this story feels: Triinu is far from perfect (and she knows it: she frequently mentions how she messes up, and I love that she remained goth all through high school. What a champ) and her story is messy. She falls from one girl to the next, ditching friends because she feels like she’s found an upgrade, only to be abandoned in return. She could easily come off as an asshole, but she doesn’t. She feels genuine, but beyond that, she feels like high school. Triinu’s story is so different from my own, yet I relate to her because, yes, that’s exactly what high school feels like. Everyone she meets could be mirrored in my own life, right down to the asshole teacher who thinks he knows best just because he’s a teacher (in this case, it’s Principal Pinn, and let me tell you, he is a horrible man).
The story is also fairly nice. It’s a lesbian bildungsroman (one of my favourite genres) but it’s not a love story. It’s about Triinu finding herself, and looking for herself in the people she meets. It’s about finding those people you can call family, and discovering that hey, maybe you aren’t as terrible a person as you thought. As the title suggests, it’s not necessarily the most original story, but it’s still an important one, coming from a voice that is so often not heard, or pushed to the sidelines.
The one issue I have is that the writing style can be strange. Triinu thinks in what ifs and imaginary dialogues and situations, which can make the writing really unclear at times. Sometimes I would think something was happening, but it was really just Triinu imagining something was happening, but the only way to realize that was through a shift in verb tense which so often flies right over your head when you’re reading so quickly. As well, sometimes the wording was a bit weird, and there were some analogies or metaphors that had me snorting because they were so bad, but overall, the prose isn’t terrible, and it’s mostly an easy read.
Lesbian stories are so important, especially for teens, and I’m so happy this one was told. I love how the happy ending wasn’t a romance, but rather Triinu finding her way in a world that is slowly getting more accepting day by day. This book reminds us that we still have a long way to go, but oh, we’ve come so far…. we can’t start giving up now.
3.5 “goth” velvet dresses out of 5.