Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review- Follow the Sun by Sophia Rhodes

Follow the Sun\
By Sophia Rhodes
Dec 27, 2011
Lesbian/Era Historical 1950’s/Erotic romance
241 pgs
Pub: Incognito Press

Los Angeles, 1957.

Dragged by her mother to California, seventeen-year old Diana Morris is miserable and would give anything to be back on the East Coast. She hates Elvis, thinks poodle skirts are overrated, and couldn’t jitterbug her way out of a paper bag.

All this changes when she lays eyes on Rosario Vargas, a young Chicano farm laborer who dresses like a man and sings rock’n’roll in a lesbian nightclub. The proud owner of a cherry-red Studebaker truck, Rosario is tough, stubborn, and isn’t going to let anybody get in the way of her dreams.

Can Diana overcome her fears and let Rosario know her secret before it’s too late? Can she leave behind everything she’s ever known and fight for the love of a woman who shows no interest in reciprocating her feelings?

Find out the answer in this scorching tale of love, courage and transformation that sweeps from the foothills of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley to the sultry cabarets of New York City’s sizzling underground scene.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language and female/female sexual practices.

This is going to be a hard review to write. I have so many mixed feelings about this book from many angles. Also, there’s going to probably be lots of spoilers, so fair warning. 

My overall impression after reading this book is that what failed for me was inconsistent characterization of Diana, the constant use of extreme bigotry as conflict and detraction from the love story, and that it lacked a specific direction for me. Ultimately it’s a romance, but most of the focus is on Diana, who she is and her growth; it’s told in first person from Diana’s POV. But it’s also about the social issues pertaining to homosexuals and Mexican Americans at the time and goes off on what seemed like unnecessary tangents at times. Unfortunately, due to this I wasn’t feeling any emotional heat between Diana and Rosario for most of the story.

The beginning of this story is good. It grabbed me and I got interested in both Diana and Rosario as characters and felt intrigued by where the story would go, but it slowly went downhill from there. 

Rosario is both a Chicano and a butch lesbian so she’s fairly guarded due to the fact that on both counts she can attract lots of unwanted negative energy just for existing. She’s strong, mature, realistic about life, and is proud of her heritage and the nomadic, hardworking way of life that her people live.
Diana is young, idealistic, naïve, and her immaturity is what causes her the most problems. I could forgive some really TSTL things she does because she’s only 17, however, after hanging out with Rosario for a while and hearing of Rosario’s struggles as both a Chicano and lesbian, and having an inner dialogue in which she gets her privilege compared to Rosario’s, what she does is too stupid for me to get past. 

*********************  SPOILER  *********************

Diana moves in with Rosario and her grandmother after running away due to a severe beating. After a while, Diana decides to call her “mommy dearest” (her mother makes Joan Crawford look like a saint) and basically tells her everything, including where she is and who she’s with, not thinking how dangerous that is. She knew how extremely bigoted and racist her mother and step-father are and how they had seen Rosario and dissed on her ethnicity and looks forbidding her to see her again in the past. Also, she had been treated so badly by her mother and step-father for disobeying them. What happens after she calls them is horrific on many levels. I just didn’t get why she’d do that after knowing and experiencing all she had until at point.
*******************  END SPOILER ********************

The romance: How it came across to me, and YMMV, is that there wasn’t enough build-up or time with the two women getting to know each other. They meet and move in together within days mainly due to the fact that Diana has run away and has nowhere to go. It felt more like friends with benefits. While the sex scenes between them are fairly intense, I didn’t feel the emotional passion or heat that was portrayed at the end of book between them before their big separation. And I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe because this was more about Diana, her life and relationship with her mother and father, and less about her life with Rosario in the first half of the book.
WTF issues. Several times during the reading of this book I had “what?!” moments. I have to do these under spoilers. Don’t read if you don’t want to know. 
******************  SPOILERS  *********************

1. Diana is so pouty and not forthcoming with Rosario about things, which I felt was done mainly to ratchet up some conflict. It was more frustrating due to causing unnecessary conflict. Especially the end when Diana, after going through a horrific event that kept her separated from Rosario for months, sees her for the first time and refuses to talk about it. Instead, she accuses Rosario of having fucked other women while separated. What?!

2. Extreme homophobia. OK, yes, this kind of thing actually happened back in the 1950’s when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder subject to horrific therapies at that time. But Diana’s mother and step father being cast as one dimensional villains who do incredibly nasty things to her over and over went way over the top I felt. And ultimately, Diana doesn’t learn much from it. She still stays idealistic and naïve about being an out lesbian and the real dangers of it, swearing to fight for future generations of lesbians’ rights even if it might bring on violence to her and Rosario. 

3. A magical Native American shows up to teach her something important about life out of nowhere. Diana is taking a bus cross country to see Rosario and is musing to herself how she hopes she’s not sitting next to a talker or weirdo, creepy dude. Who shows up is weirdo creepy dude who talks too much. But wait, on closer inspection, he’s really a wise, old Native American dressed in stereotypical Native American regalia who is passing on a message about life that she needs to hear. He’s there just for her.

I will interject here that part of my issue with Diana’s characterization is inconsistency. Sometimes she really acts TSTL not learning from experience, and other times she’s off on lofty philosophical and poetic inner musings about life that make her seem wiser than her years and how she acts. 

So here she meets, by cosmic design apparently, the man she is supposed to meet at that time in her life to teach her a lesson.Here’s what got me, this lesson is about her relationship with her father. There was not much about her father until that point other than he came across as weak-willed and absent really,  willing to let her go with her mother and trying to convince her it’s better she’s with her mom. She really didn’t have a bad relationship with her dad, just he didn’t push to keep her and she couldn’t understand why. So this life lesson about making amends with her father before it’s too late felt from left field all the sudden.

5.  Her father and what happens when she goes to meet him. Wow really? Maybe the author gave her a hellish life to balance the privilege, whereas non-privileged Rosario has family acceptance, love, and they totally support her.

*******************  END SPOILER ****************

This book wasn’t completely a negative experience or I wouldn’t have kept reading. The author gets the time period correct. Cultural references and attitudes from the 1950’s felt authentic. And I liked Rosario as a character and that she is accepted in her community for who she is. Like it’s a common thing to be a lesbian.

The ending is what eventually saved this book for me in my mind. After all the ups and downs and crazy stuff that happens to Diana, and her almost effing it up with Rosario, things are set right and it’s left on a positive note. I just wish that there was more about Rosario and Diana and their connection throughout the whole book.

Heat level: 4- a few, graphically written scenes, strap-on use.

Grade: It was OK

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