A Girl's Own Story

Teresa Stores’s third novel takes us back to the 1960s, where a young lesbian in Jacksonville, Fla., navigates religion, family, and politics.

BY Charlotte Abbott

September 24 2008 12:00 AM ET

In one of the
novel’s most memorable scenes, Virge gets dropped off
to pass out religious pamphlets in the suburb where
the kids with the coolest clothes and Brady
Bunch
hairstyles live. Armed with a handful of
“One Way to Heaven” leaflets, she has three
blistering summer hours to fill leading poor souls to
the Lord -- though Virge is smart enough to tell
herself that “even if Rolling Hills has some lost
souls, none of them are poor.” Sure enough, she
runs into three popular girls from school, tanning in
their bikinis and itching to tease her.

Alternately,
Virge finds respite with Miriam Rosenbaum, a Holocaust
survivor who teaches her more about kindness and moral
ambiguity than she’s ever learned in church;
and Mel, a Baptist black girl from school, who
challenges her father’s bigotry. These nuanced
friendships force her to dig deep inside herself. And
while she finds unexpected support from her devout and
yielding mother, Virge begins to face the gnawing fear
that she’s backsliding from being
“saved.”

Threaded
throughout Virge’s struggle for self-confidence are
vignettes from her 25-year high school reunion, where
she encounters many former classmates. Some of these
meetings are more emotionally satisfying than it might
be reasonable to expect from real life, and some lose their
punch amid lengthy flashbacks. But by the end of the novel
we don’t doubt Virge’s hard-won
self-acceptance, or that it came both because and in
spite of her upbringing.

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