The Space Between: “Popular Girl/Uncool Girl” lesbian contemporary YA

Welcome to Ylva Publishing’s newest lesbian YA contemporary. The Space Between (Goodreads link) is basically your quintessential “high school is hell” YA novel, with a cruel Popular Crowd, the Uncool Girl who the Super Popular One finds themselves strangely drawn to and eventually falls for, the inevitable lying to the rest of the Crowd, the Super’s downfall, and the happy ending because True Love is Cooler than All That High School Court Bullshit. EXCEPT! The Super in this is played by Daisy Ridley instead of… oh, Lord, I don’t even know any boy actors to put here. Leo? That’s who it was back in my day (and I didn’t like him that way until this year! Whatever, y’all know I have a type.)

WHAT WAS I SAYING. Anyway: my point is that this takes a pretty common YA-and-teen-movie trope and does it thoroughly and with nuance in f/f (set in Toronto), and personally I think there won’t be balance in the force until every single happy ending trope of all time has been done repeatedly with two women — lots of different types of women. Over and over. Because every worn trope with straight people is just one more gated garden women-loving women just haven’t gotten to step inside.

The two girls in this book–the Popular Girl and the Uncool Girl–make a lot of mistakes while trying to figure out how the hell to love each other or even make friends in the first place, but they get there eventually. Canadian author Michelle L. Teichman did a great job of depicting a popular high school clique as a vicious, competitive trap, and if indeed things are really like that I’m grateful I was always just one of the orchestra nerds. You may find this book frustrating if characters not believing each other grates on you, but I promise everything works out.

The Uncool Girl’s father is a Protestant minister, and her family are serious Christians, although the Christian presence in the book is somewhat mild and her self esteem issues loom larger than her worries about homosexuality being a sin. I appreciated how the voice of reason at the end came from within faith rather than suggesting that only abandoning it would bring her peace, although I completely understand how some other people may have found that meaningful and resonant instead. Trigger warning for some homophobic babble from the Uncool Girl’s father during one of his sermons–honestly, that was our fucking book, first, so please put it down and back away slowly with your hands where I can see them if that’s all you can think to do with it. *Southern Belle flounce*

Maybe this is a dipshit compliment but I like the fact that Cool Girl was the brunette and the goth-dressing Uncool Girl had blonde hair, because I feel like so many people assume all popular girls are blonde and nobody who’s blonde could ever possibly be an outcast. As a blonde, thin middle school outcast: kids are just weird and sometimes they just do what they do for no reason. Also I really, really like the way some of the messier loose ends got tied up in this one while still leaving enough ragged bits to be realistic.

I was in this book once, in the sense that I had a really hard time coming out “all the way” when I was younger. I was out to most of my friends and online but not to my family, and that was stressful as hell and insulting to the person who is now my spouse. So every time the Uncool Girl was like “I need more time” I totally got it. I also got how hard that was for Cool Girl. I hope kids who are still wrestling with that find validation in this kind of representation. (And you know what? I don’t think the book makes it clear whether or not Uncool Girl has come out to her parents even three years later as the girls are about to leave for college together, and that’s good because coming out is not safe for everyone and it’s important for those kids to be validated, heard, and represented, too.)

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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