Joanna Gordon has been living life in Atlanta as an out and proud lesbian for most of her teenage life but that all changes when her pastor father marries a woman from a traditional Baptist family who moves the whole family to a small town in Southern Georgia. Her father asks if she doesn’t mind laying low (ie going back into the closet) for the year in exchange for a youth radio program and permission to go on a wild summer trip. While she struggles with hiding her identity Jo manages to find a group of friends she fits in with; unfortunately Jo begins to develop feelings for one of those friends, Mary Carlson, and begins to wonder if all she is giving up is worth what she is getting in return.
There are a lot of great messages in this one. Love yourself, God loves you no matter what, People will accept you for who you are not who you love, etc. but it comes across as very schmaltzy at times. There is a strong religious element but it’s more about finding acceptance under an all loving God and not overly preachy.
Jo is not a perfect protagonist, she actually makes a lot of dumb mistakes and feels a bit stereotypical at times, but she grows a lot and learns from her mistakes. The best parts of the book are with Mary Carlson’s bother, BTB, and the relationship he has with Joanna and elephants.