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Reviewed by Rinne Lim
RAMONA BLUE By Julie Murphy 432 pp. Balzer + Bray.
Julie Murphy’s Ramona Blue revolves around the thoughts, emotions, and ambitions of Ramona Leroux—or, as she is more affectionately known to her friends and family, Ramona Blue. An out lesbian, standing 6’3” tall and with perpetually blue hair, she stands out from the rest of her quaint coastal town of Eulogy, Mississippi.
Blue, the color of stability. Indeed, Ramona with the blue hair has become her family’s rock and foundation over the years, unfailingly providing stability to her father and her sister, Hattie, though Ramona herself would be, deep inside, the very opposite of stable. Never mind what she wants; Ramona’s first and only priority is her responsibility to her father and sister. Though it would mean staying forever in Eulogy and never getting to experience the change she so badly wants, Ramona is resolute to support and provide what her loved ones need the most, unlike her (mostly) absent mother.
But then, situations change for Ramona when Freddie, her childhood best friend, comes back around town. Freddie and his grandmother, Agnes, brings along Ramona to the YMCA during early mornings; and there, a passion for swimming rekindles in Ramona. Day by day, as she gets faster and better at swimming, she becomes imbued with hope, hope that Eulogy is not the be-and-end-all of her future. But dare she act on it?
Ramona Blue is preoccupied with the uncertainty of tensions: leaving versus staying, family versus self, temporality versus permanence, the comfort of the familiar versus the risk of the new and unknown. Throughout the novel, Ramona tries to exist in this sort of dynamic equilibrium so as to be able to merge these contests brought about by life and her unwavering sense of responsibility to her father and to her pregnant sister. However, such a solution is only temporary, and a decision, whether to stay in Eulogy or to leave, must be inevitably made. What does she value more: her family or the prospect of a new, different life? Dare she set off for college after graduation, even though doing so would entail her leaving her family behind? How about her growing love for Freddie, despite that it goes against who she is: will she deny her love, or will she forgo everything she has come to know about herself? These are the questions and internal battles Ramona would face, and we readers are to cheer our heroine on, in the hopes that she would finally realize that she could be larger than life, but only if she chooses to emerge and chase after the things that would truly bring her freedom.
Reading this book, I find Ramona to be a character easy and fulfilling to root for. Author Murphy offers us readers a brave, independent heroine whose virtues include resilience and selflessness, able to dedicate and sacrifice her all—including even the possibilities and could-be’s of her future—for the sake of those whom she loves the most. Despite having experienced brokenness, through hurricanes and tornadoes, Ramona continues to cultivate and strive for a love that goes beyond her.
However, for me, the selfless love Ramona exemplifies should not be considered the ultimate theme of the novel. Rather, I believe that the best insight Ramona Blue can grant to its readers is that our responsibilities to others must not render us incapable of fulfilling our responsibilities to ourselves. There must come a point in time where we finally get to choose our own happiness and aspirations. Ramona, as she discovers through Freddie more and more reasons to live, slowly allows herself to hope for a new beginning and to let go of her childhood hometown she has literally and figuratively outgrown. In the end, Ramona realizes that, as much as life should be spent taking care of our loved ones, it must equally be spent fulfilling and realizing our own needs, wants, and purposes.
This novel is all about breaking free, made even more exciting with the antics of not-so-teenagers on the verge of figuring themselves and their future out—long drives, sneaking in pools, Star Wars deflowering, finding purpose through passion, MASH, and more. With its dynamic characters and plot, Ramona Blue is just what a young adult novel ought to be.
When she is not causing ruckuses and explosions in the laboratory, Rinne likes to write about everything and nothing at all. She continues to hope that, someday, mathematical formulas would beckon to her attention and imagination as eagerly as writing and literature do.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]