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Girls like girls like boys do, nothing new

“One girl learns to accept the love she fears the most.”
 
A copy of the book 'Girls Like Girls' by Hayley Kiyoko on top of a lesbian flag and surrounded by pens in the colors of the flag.
Hayley Kiyoko's most recent release, 'Girls Like Girls' - a lesbian romance story based on her 2015 viral song of the same name. Photo by Ezra Santana.
 

Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko

 

After her self-released song Girls Like Girls went viral on February 3, 2015, Hayley Kiyoko became a queer icon who left an indelible mark on a generation, being affectionately labeled as 'the lesbian Jesus'.

The American singer-songwriter, dancer and actress decided to dip her toes into writing with her recent release - from May 26, 2023 - Girls Like Girls, a lesbian romance story based on the 2015 viral.

The story revolves around teenagers grappling with and accepting their queerness. It touches on themes of grief, sadness, depression, parent-child relationships, friendships and, of course, romance.

Overall, Girls Like Girls is a solid debut novel that will likely reach the hearts of a younger audience. It does, however, have its flaws, which led me to rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

The book tells the story of 17-year-old Coley, who just moved to a small town in Oregon, United States, to live with her father after her mother committed suicide.

On her first day in town, Coley decides to ride her bike around to get away from her new and unfamiliar home environment, stopping at a convenience store and almost getting run over by a car full of teenagers her age (yes, you read that right).

That’s when she meets her. Sonya.

“Sonya is not like those other girls. She is every question I’ve ever had - about myself, about love, about touch.” (p. 127)

The plot is a roller coaster. Coley and Sonya experience numerous ups and downs, highs and lows. While this dynamic keeps the story engaging and prevents a slow pace, it can also become exhausting and challenging to follow.

The setting choice helps the author explore the reality of being queer in a small town and how different that can be from the experience of people in big cities.

And although the story is centered on the romance, there are many conversations surrounding grief, guilt, depression, identity, confidence and relationships.

Our protagonist grieves her mother’s death and struggles with guilt while her father, Curtis, attempts to establish a relationship with her after not being there for most of her life.

Sonya feels pressured by her wealthy and strict family to meet their standards while also being stuck in a on-and-off 'situationship' with her ex-boyfriend, Trenton - who is the homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and bully character.

“’I can’t have pink stuff all over my arm. Get me something that’s not girly.’” (p. 144)

Overall, the characters aren’t well-developed, which is likely because the entire story happens in the span of a summer.

The relationship between Coley and Sonya seems hurried and overly intense at times. At others, tensions make it feel stagnate.

“The look she shoots me is all fond exasperation, and it makes me feel like I’m eating melting chocolate, the rush of it thick and too sweet, sticking to every part of me.” (p. 69)
“’Why did Coley have to act like that? Why did she have to talk about it? It was fine until she wanted all that. She should’ve known better.’” (p. 247)

Besides our main couple, the characters lack sufficient relevance for the readers to truly get to know them on a deeper level. Sonya’s friends - SJ, Brooke, Alex and Trenton - all have issues of their own.

The writing style targets a younger audience, being simple and easy to understand. The author also made the interesting and unique choice to use private and public online journal entries to serve as a way into Sonya’s mind - since the story itself is written from Coley’s point of view.

The ending, though somewhat satisfactory, is very rushed. Most of the tension between Coley and Sonya is solved in the last 5 or so pages (from a total of 303).

Overall, Girls Like Girls is a decent debut novel. It has significant flaws - character development, too many ups and downs, rushed ending - but it might still reach the younger audience it targets.

If you are in your early or late teens and looking for a book that explores the challenges of living your first queer love while coming to terms with your sexuality, this book may be for you.

Ultimately, Girls Like Girls secured a rating of 3 out of 5 stars. While this might not appear sufficiently high, I did find moments of enjoyment within this emotionally charged and occasionally draining narrative.

So… try it out! And hopefully lesbian Jesus will touch your heart and bring you to salvation ;)

 
“I don’t even know how to breathe or the name of this feeling. All I know is I want to be breathless forever, if it’s like this.” (p. 84)
 

Girls Like Girls | Hayley Kiyoko | 320 pp. | Wednesday Books | CA$26.00

 

“It’s summertime and 17-year-old Coley has found herself alone, again. Forced to move to rural Oregon after just losing her mother, she is in no position to risk her already fragile heart. But when she meets Sonya, the attraction is immediate.

Coley worries she isn't worthy of love. Up until now, everyone she's loved has left her. And Sonya's never been with a girl before. What if she's too afraid to show up for Coley? What if by opening her heart, Coley's risking it all?

They both realize that when things are pushed down, and feelings are forced to shrivel away, Coley and Sonya will be the ones to shrink. It’s not until they accept the love they fear and deserve most, that suddenly the song makes sense.”

 

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My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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