Pulp by Robin Talley
In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend a secret. In the age of McCarthyism to be gay is a sin. But when Janet discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens her need to write. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to 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: classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. She feels especially connected to one author, Marian Love, and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity. But is Abby prepared for what she will find?
I haven’t read many YA novels yet this year, but Pulp is an example of why they’re so important for all ages.
Abby is seventeen years old, gay, and having problems concentrating on schoolwork. Her parents aren’t living their best marriage, and this is affecting her performance. Her creative writing class demands a project, and she decides to work on exploring lesbian pulp fiction novels. Janet is living in the 1950s, is eighteen years old, and gay. She doesn’t know what this means, only that she’s in love with her best friend, and it’s wrong.
Talley is skilful here in converging Abby and Janet’s lives, and displaying the past to allow us to engage with it. The contrasting chapters ensure the differences between the present day and the 1950 are stark - Janet simply cannot be herself around anyone due to political and social oppression, whereas Abby’s friends and family accept her, and her sexuality is a given part of her humanity. For me, this contrast emerged in how I felt when I read the chapters; Abby’s I read with a calmness, Janet’s with a quickly beating heart. I was so in love with these girls.
Ashamedly, I’m not too clued up on what life was like for the LGBT community in the fifties, and it was enlightening to read more on McCarthyism, the ways subversive people were sought out, and most importantly, what they did to ensure they remained the people they were born to be. I would’ve liked a bit more of this here, as it seemed very much as though Talley was only scraping the surface of the conflicts and terror that would have abounded then. Abby’s school project would have needed further knowledge on this.
Nonetheless, this is a gorgeous and compelling exploration of the lives of the oppressed in the fifties, and how this compares with life now. Despite there being plenty of work left to do to promote the acceptance and normalisation of the LGBT community, Pulp is a reminder of how far we’ve come, and what can be achieved over time.