Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Thirsty, by Jas Hammonds

For the last couple of years, Blake, her BFF Annetta, and her girlfriend Ella have had the same dream:  get accepted at Jameswell College and pledge the Serena Society.  For Annetta and Ella, joining the Serena Society means following in their mothers' footsteps.  For Blake, whose parents did not go to college, Serena a gateway to a new world.  The Serena Society is a sorority for women of color, populated with some of the most influential women in the country.  Membership means a lifetime of networking and support, and an opportunity to enter a world of power and privilege that Blake can only dream of.  But she knows that, unlike her friends, she doesn't really belong there, so she does everything she can to fit in and be liked.

And for Blake, being liked has come easiest when she's drinking and  acting the life of the party.  The fact that she blacks out and does irresponsible and dangerous things when she drinks doesn't initially bother her because everyone occasionally drinks to excess, don't they?  And anyway, Ella assures her that it's fine.  But as Blake's behavior starts to hurt her friendship with Annetta and strain relations with her own family, Blake starts to wonder if she's gone too far.  With the future of her candidacy at Serena on the line, Blake must make choices between her friends, her family, and her dreams.

Tackling racism, classism, transphobia, alcoholism, suicidal ideation, and many other triggering subjects, this is one very busy story!  Blake, in a word, has issues: mostly, problems with confidence but tinged by family tensions and her discomfort with being mixed race.  That lack of confidence makes her easy pickings for the toxic affection of her abusive girlfriend.  The whole business of pledging Serena just pours gasoline on this smoldering mess.  Of it all, alcohol dependency is actually the least of her issues.  Her real "thirst" is for self-respect and she's not good at finding a potable supply.

I think this was a really good book and I was very impressed with how it dealt with its many issues.  It's one of the few books on racism that I've read that didn't feel like it was lecturing me (even though I was most certainly learning).  It's a bit of a spoiler, but the fact that Serena does not end the book at an AA meeting took me by surprise.  And the relationship between Blake and Ella ends with a lot more nuance than I was expecting.  I haven't read Hammonds first novel, We Deserve Monuments, but I'm now very intrigued and may well go back and do so.  Original and profound, with a strong uncompromising voice.

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