You know a novel is well-written if you find yourself sucked into the story, feeling every single emotion the characters are feeling, and either moving you to tears or making you smile without realizing. Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen, a YA lesbian romance, is precisely that kind of book, and what makes it even more impressive is it is Quindlen’s first lesbian novel, and she packed it with so many of the real feelings and real agonies that lesbians first coming out to themselves often face.
In the spring of 2012, seventeen-year-old Hannah Eaden is in her final months of high school, working to pass her exams and choose the right college. She has a strong network of friends, including her best friend, Baker Hadley. The girls know each other so well and do pretty much everything together. Along with Hannah’s sister and three male friends, the group, known as “Six-Pack”, is inseparable. But Hannah begins to realize her love for Baker is more than the love of a friend, and Baker too, seems to be feeling the same way. They try to deny their feelings, but one night during spring break changes everything. Brought up by their school, community, and religion to believe their feelings are sinful and unnatural, Hannah and Baker retreat inside themselves, trying to make their love for each other go away and learn to live a “normal” life. But these feelings will not be quelled, leading to an extremely emotional yet enlightening journey towards acceptance.
Her Name in the Sky is one of the best novels I’ve read that covers the day-by-day thoughts and experiences of a teenage girl dealing with learning her sexuality. Hannah is a highly relatable character, with her doubt, her pleas to God to “make it go away”, and suffering both happiness and guilt from her love for Baker. Her story reflects that of millions of other lesbians who first react negatively upon realizing their sexuality and the terror of their entire lives being uprooted by the knowledge. As my first reaction to my own sexuality was shame and horror, many of the things she thought or said resonated with me. As a result, the novel reached much deeper than any of the others I’ve read. Still, I believe anyone can get immersed in this book whether they had similar experiences or not. Quindlen is honest and to-the-point in her story.
The setting of the novel was another very interesting aspect. Hannah lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attends a devout Catholic school. Quindlen’s descriptions of Mardi Gras celebrations, Easter Mass, action-packed vacations and proms give a very good idea of the community Hannah and Baker live in, their standing in school and social circles, their friends and relationships, pretty much their entire world.
Quindlen also was great with showing people’s varying reactions to homosexuality, some being kind and others outright violent. One of Hannah’s teachers, Ms. Carpenter, is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is compassionate and easy-going, yet will not shy away from letting someone know they are being cruel and are potentially hurting another person. Out of all the characters, she is one of the most sympathetic and open-minded.
Her Name in the Sky is a masterpiece. However, people looking for a light-hearted story might want to save this novel for another time. It’s deeply intense and emotionally exhausting. But these raw and genuine feelings are what make this book so wonderful.