Young adult novels, by the very nature of the genre, tend to shy away from serious topics. Even ones that touch on life and death usually remain in the realm of dystopian worlds. And then there's The Inside of Out, a refreshing spin on the classic (please see: overdone) high school love story — based in Charleston to boot.
Jenn Marie Thorne's second novel is about two best friends, Daisy and Hannah, entering their junior year of high school on the same day Hannah comes out as a lesbian. Daisy, Hannah's steadfast companion, who harks constantly on their compatibility as two quirky gal pals, stands strong next to her BFF, offering herself as her protector, confidante, and sometimes even as Hannah's voice. Daisy is loud and proud about Hannah's gay status while Hannah, new to the whole being out thing, shies away from any attention.
"There's a balancing act of ally-ship," says Thorne, who first became interested in the LGBTQ movement in college, when several of her friends came out. "It's about 'I can do more' without shining light on yourself," she continues.
This point — the necessary selflessness of allies — is key in The Inside of Out. Daisy, who isn't gay, wants to join her school's GSA (gay student alliance). Unfortunately, allowing straight students into the LGBTQ group backfired a few years ago, and the fictional high school, Palmetto High, now only has a gay alliance. As its leader Raina tells Daisy, "We're not letting cis dilettantes into our group to claim ownership over our narrative. End of story."
But they let Daisy in anyway — she claims she's asexual — and, as she is wont to do, Daisy takes over the group's narrative. An overeager planner — she has a half painted mural in the works over at the rec center — she quickly jumps into help when the school board cancels the homecoming dance. Rather than ruling on whether or not same sex couples can attend the dance, the conservative school board shuts it down entirely.
And that's when a college journalist reports that Daisy will be throwing a competing prom where everyone is invited. The national newspapers pick it up and everyone assumes Daisy is gay, reporting as such. Needless to say, shy Hannah is none too pleased with this sequence of events.
"Charleston is a mix of progressive and conservative," says Thorne, explaining the reasoning behind the book's setting. While she didn't grow up here, Thorne' parents live in the area, and her brother went to high school in Charleston. She ran the book by him, asking if he thought the storyline was plausible in this community. From his experiences, he thought it was.
Some circumstances of the book are exaggerated beyond the bounds of reality — as journalists we can promise you that no one story would stay in national headlines for weeks on end, as Daisy's story does in the novel. But for the most part, the book is fair in its treatment of current issues, because unfortunately gay rights are still a contested issue in many parts of the country.
As Thorne sees it, there are "avenues in activism," in Charleston, and she hopes the book will makes its way into the hands of LGBTQ allies — and y'all, we hope that's everyone — who need some help determining how best to advocate for their friends. The book doesn't take the place of the voices of LGBTQ members, says Thorne, but she would like it to act as a companion piece to those kinds of books.
A graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Thorne originally wanted to be an actress. "I insisted that I was an actor when I was writing everyday. And then I said, 'OK I'm a writer,'" she laughs. She says that her background in acting helps her put herself in other peoples' shoes, namely the shoes of her characters. "I can relate to all of them in different ways. Part of why I write is to work out some things I find problematic about my personality."
While Daisy's overstepping is certainly problematic — and at times unnerving — she's a wholly likable character who falls in love with another likable character, the aforementioned journalist. The book is fast-paced, funny, and full of heart. We think it could serve as an eye-opening read for everyone, not just young adults — and trust us, we don't say that often.