Music from Another World by Robin Talley

Music from Another World by Robin Talley
Pub. Date: March 31, 2020
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Inkyard Press!)
Summary: It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.

Sharon Hawkins bonds with Tammy over punk music and carefully shared secrets, and soon their letters become the one place she can be honest. The rest of her life in San Francisco is full of lies. The kind she tells for others–like helping her gay brother hide the truth from their mom–and the kind she tells herself. But as antigay fervor in America reaches a frightening new pitch, Sharon and Tammy must rely on their long-distance friendship to discover their deeply personal truths, what they’ll stand for…and who they’ll rise against.
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, LGBT

Tammy Larson has kept her true self hidden: her Christian school, her extremely conservative church (run by her family), and her uber religious political campaigner aunt would all do anything – and everything – they could to turn this closeted lesbian straight if they were to find out. Tammy’s only safe space is her diary where she writes letters to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk.

A class assignment, however, changes everything. Two schools on opposite sides of the country have teamed up for a pen pal project. With Sharon, Tammy can talk about things she has been sheltered from: punk music in particular, and while a fast friendship forms, Tammy remains uncertain of just how much she can trust Sharon. Sharon, on the other hand, has a secret of her own: her brother recently came out to her and she’s been helping him hide the truth from their mother. While she isn’t completely comfortable with his sexuality, she does love her brother, and soon finds her world view expanding as she’s introduced to the punk scene and begins volunteering at a feminist bookshop.

I was excited to read Music from Another World for one specific reason: I know zip about this era in history. Harvey Milk, Anita Bryant, the political climate of 1977, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of it and, being the history-loving bookworm I am, was eager to dive in and learn about this time period. Even better was that it was told through the eyes of two girls who were witnessing it first-hand.

The novel reads incredibly fast as it’s told entirely through diary entries and the letters the girls exchange. I nearly put the book down 20% of the way in, I just wasn’t invested in the story. Still, I stuck with it, given how quick the story read, and in the end…it was just an okay book.

My main issue was with the narration. Sometimes epistolary novels can work really well, other times the characters’ voices blend together and that was the case here. Half the time, I honestly could not tell which girl’s letter I was reading; I needed to look for context clues (okay, we’re in a church, it must be Tammy’s chapter). Both girls sounded so similar that they became the same character in my eyes. Also, they’re meant to be in high school, but sounded far younger. At one point one of them wrote “My birthday’s tomorrow. I’ll be sixteen year old, but I feel about nine.” Well they both sounded about nine.

Music from Another World was a very quick read that clued me in on a time period I know very little about. Unfortunately, it didn’t have much more going for it – but I know I’m in the clear minority here. This book will be sure to find a following. Sadly I found it hard to differentiate between the two main characters and every single person who was a practicing Christian was absurdly vile and hateful.

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