This book was beautiful in so many ways, and at times really hurt my heart with how good it was. Huge thanks to Abrams Publishing for sending me an early readers copy to read and review! I am, of course, always excited to read new LGBT+ fiction, so to read this book about two girls beginning to have feelings for eachother and letting those feelings grow and blossom was beautiful.
Kate and Tam meet and both of their worlds tip sideways. Neither quite knows why. Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And yet, the more they keep running into each other, the more their expectations don’t live up to the real thing. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Kate realises Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player: she’s funny and confident and everything Kate wishes she could be.
Redwood and Ponytail is a delicately written book overflowing with emotion. Set in a brand new year of high school, it focuses on the characters Tam (Redwood) and Kate (Ponytail). The two have seen each other in school before in passing, not knowing one another, but as the school year continues they begin to grow as friends while beginning to develop something more. Something new.
Although the main story of the book is the two characters beginning to fall for each other, there are lots of other things that help or hinder this. Kate is trying her hardest to break out of the mould that her mum is trying to determine for her, and ends up juggling her feelings for Tam, becoming the mascot of the school team, and even running for class president. We see Kate battling with the person she’s always been and this new side of her that she desperately wants to let shine. Through the book, you can see the weight that all of these things have on Kate, and how she tries to deal with each one, and also how they affect Tam indirectly.
This book is written entirely in verse, something that works so well for the story. It allows the characters thoughts to be free flowing and clear, even when they are entwined with another character’s thoughts. I found it to be very clever when there were parts of the book when both Tam and Kate had very similar thoughts – the stanzas were made up of the same sentences, just in a different order. It really gave the view that both characters were ‘on the same page’ – they just don’t know it. The verse style also worked incredibly well when characters were
I adored the narrators in this book too – aside from Tam and Kate, there are also narrators of the story named Alyx, Alex and Alexx. They act as a typical ‘fly-on-the-wall’ voice, observing everything happening to the two girls and reporting on it with ease. It’s great to have a third voice in this book discuss what the girls are missing when it’s obviously in their face. The Alexes are cryptic, observant, and very vocal about what they see, and it’s a clever addition to the book, although sometimes can be a bit repetitive at times.
On the surface, Redwood and Ponytail may look to be just a verse novel about two girls falling for eachother. But as you read the book, you discover that it is so much more. It’s a book about self affirmation, about standing up for yourself, about doing things that you want to do rather than what others want. It’s a stunning piece of literature, made even more accessible as it can be read for a younger audience too. The affirmation of these developing feelings that both characters are feeling and also having confusion over is very raw and real.
I know I say it with lots of my LGBT+ book reviews, but I really do think that young LGBT+ readers will be able to find solace with this book. New feelings are often scary and confusing, and this book captures that perfectly. The characters find people they can trust to talk to and rely on with these feelings; Tam seeks solace with her neighbours – without spoiling the book, the neighbours become incredibly helpful for Tam when discovering her own sexuality – and Kate reconnects with her sister to talk to her about her troubles and fears. It’s a good and healthy viewpoint to show characters struggling and turning to others for help – something that everyone needs to do at some point in their lives. It humanises the characters and makes them believable and even more relatable.
Final thoughts: A beautiful and affirming story, sure to tug on your heartstrings with every page. 4.5/5