Liz was publicly coming out in her professional life.
This announcement was understandably laced with some trepidation on her part as Liz is a successful writer of books for a younger readership with her popular Emily Windsnap series. She feared how parents and other gatekeepers would react. But as a young reader of mermaid books who has had to step into the real world now and then, it was a very encouraging step.
The world was ready for Ash's story at long last, and having read the book, I can safely say that it is a much welcome addition to our shelves!
Last week, for a sold out event, Liz's supporters gathered at a truly incredible launch for Read Me Like A Book. Authors, bloggers, ex teachers, friends and fans alike all came together to celebrate the coming out of Ash’s story at long last. Hosted brilliantly by bookseller Yael from Waterstones Hampstead, the atmosphere was buzzing. With speeches from Yael, Liz and Ruth Hunt of Stonewall, it really felt like a grand launch that would be truly unforgettable. Yael opened by praising Liz and saying how excited Hampstead was to host the launch, and their aim to become a forerunner in the advancement and promotion of diverse titles.
Everyone was extremely moved by Liz’s speech as she reiterated the story behind Read Me Like A Book from her original blog post and told hilarious stories about her journey to publishing, including her brother pointing out that Emily Windsnap's own story was perhaps a metaphorical coming out (some people marry mermaids, and proud!). Liz thanked her friends and family for their support, her publishing team at Orion, as well as tearful thank you to her wife Laura. (Well I was certainly crying!)
A highlight of the evening was the speech from Stonewall’s Ruth Hunt. Laying the groundwork for Stonewall’s mission to open the minds of the UK general public to equal rights for LGBT individuals, Ruth discussed the importance of representation in schools. I was very happy to hear that Read Me Like A Book will be getting a great introduction to secondary schools in the UK thanks to the work of Stonewall. No where else is there a more important place for this booked to be stocked than the very location that might help change someone’s life by truly proving that you are not alone, whether your worries be about sexuality, family problems, friendship breakdowns or even crushes. Ruth reminded us all of the social, political and personal impact in simply sharing our stories.
We ended the evening with cheers for Liz, tears and hugs all round, books were signed (one for me, one for my Mum), and then proceeded to dig in to the graciously provided rainbow cake (yum!)
Read Me Like A Book is about Ashleigh Walker, a young and bolshy teenage girl prone to avoiding homework, getting fed up, and going on dates. Worrying about bad grades and college is the least of her problems when her parents are having screaming matches on a daily basis, or freezing each other put entirely. Playing the field is a perfect distraction, and Ash likes her boyfriend Dylan well enough. But something is missing. It's when she finds herself besotted with the funny, kind words and challenging lessons of her English teacher, Miss Murray, that things start to become clear. For it's not just the chance to debate that has Ash hooked. She wants to get to know Miss Murray herself. Even if she is a girl, and a teacher.
Liz's writing is natural and accessible which makes this coming out novel in an English setting an exciting book to pick up and sink into. There have been novels in America that have explored these events such as Annie on My Mind, Ask the Passengers and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. But few on English turf - most notably in recent years is Keris Stainton's Starring Kitty. Read Me Like A Book is a great next step as it is aimed at a slightly older audience and has such a sense of heart in the personal knowledge and understanding, particularly in regards to that confusing slow building realisation that Liz puts into each word. Unlike some of its older US counterparts, RMLAB is not so much concerned with homophobic reactions to Ash coming out as it is with her growing understanding and acceptance of who she is. It begins the process of owning an identity.
Ash is a messy teen, often stroppy. This makes her path all the more relatable as she makes bad decisions and sometimes gets burned for it. She finds wonderful support from some of her friends, most notably Jayce who has reasons of his own to lend a supportive ear. The evolution of her crushes and relationship is endearing and will capture your heart, ready to cheer her on to find her happiness.
From that first kiss, those crushes you don't quite know what to do with - to not knowing who you can share your secret with at all, there can never be enough coming out stories as everyone has their own unique narrative. Be you fourteen and confused, in your twenties and getting ready to face the world, or taking a risk and a leap of faith in your professional life, coming out is an ongoing process. Thank you, Liz, for sharing both your journey and Ash's with all of us who needed to read it. Even if it did take us over ten years to get there!
Liz’s book will change lives for the better. What more could we ask for from our fiction?