In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.
Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.
In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.
Robin Talley’s Recommended Reading – Lesbian Pulp Fiction
Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon (1962). Ann Bannon, the legendary queen of lesbian pulp fiction, wrote a series of books now known as the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, and this — the last in the series, and a prequel to the rest — is my personal favorite. Beebo Brinker is a masculine woman living in a time when being who she is means being shut out of most of society, but she lives, loves and thrives despite it all. This is the book that will suck you in and introduce you to the long-running soap-opera-esque story that encompasses Beebo and her many queer friends and lovers in 1950s Greenwich Village.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (1952). This novel, made into the film Carol starring Cate Blanchett in 2015, is an incredible work of literature by an extremely talented author (who unfortunately was also a very problematic human being). It’s a romance between two women in New York that starts like a dark fairy tale and goes to very frightening places before an ultimately — and surprisingly — uplifting ending. A must-read.
The Girls in 3-B by Valerie Taylor (1959). Valerie Taylor, another prolific author of lesbian pulp fiction, thoroughly captivated me with this story of three recent high school graduates who move from the far-out suburbs into a tiny Chicago apartment and face a gritty urban landscape that they’re all thoroughly unprepared for at the age of 18. Two of the characters are straight, and their stories are full of their own alarming highs and lows, but the third character finds herself — after plenty of highs and lows of her own — in a romance with a female coworker that’s by far the most positive relationship in the book. It’s a fascinating look at a terrifying time to be a young woman and the surprising ways the characters find to make it despite the odds.
Spring Fire by Marijane Meaker (1952). This novel, by another prolific author (who also writes young adult stories under the pen name M.E. Kerr), is credited with starting the lesbian pulp fiction phenomenon. Its success in the early 1950s (1.5 million copies sold!) inspired legions of imitators. It’s set on a university campus and follows two sorority sisters who become roommates and, shortly thereafter, lovers — but who stand to lose everything if anyone even guesses at their secret. The author was forced to put a tragic ending on this novel by her publisher (they were understandably worried about censorship) but the story that comes before that is mesmerizing and more than a little chilling.
Thank you, Robin, for the guest post, and all the fantastic recommendations! Check out Robin's contemporary LGBTQ+ YA recommendations on her tour stop yesterday with Jo at Once Upon A Bookcase. Check out the rest of the stops on the tour below!