Out on Good Behavior is the story of how a life-embracing, blue-haired art student with roses tattooed on her cleavage and piercings you can’t see in class falls, hard, for her best friend’s cute blonde roommate, a sweet girl who doesn’t drink and prefers books and gentle hangouts to clubbing.
How does the party girl–and this is such a lovely, positive portrayal of a party girl who really enjoys herself as opposed to, like, secretly not actually having a good time–handle her attraction to the YA-reading, quiet-evenings-in Girl Next Door (the Lesbian Edition)? Well, for one thing, Samara makes herself easy to like because she does supportive things like showing up for Frankie’s gallery showing and really taking an interest in her art on its own level and not just as something cool Frankie did.
“You know that doesn’t mean I find literally everyone on the planet fuckable, right? It’s not my fault you happen to surround yourself with people I do.” And with this line, out of the mouth of pansexual protagonist Frankie Bellisario, author Dahlia Adler shows that having an enthusiastic sexual appetite for people of all genders doesn’t mean you can’t be picky and discerning about which of those people you’d actually get with.
I feel confident that with all the bi and pan cage-rattling going on in queer lit, the next generation of multi-gender-attracted kids won’t grow up thinking “Well, I must be straight even though I have all these same-gender impulses–I like the gender I’m supposed to like!” the way I did until That Green-Eyed Girl (yes, for those who keep track of My Type, she was a brunette with incredibly pale skin. Of course.) A lot of us literally never heard of bisexuality as kids.
Frankie’s enthusiasm in her attraction to women is very positive, sunny, and reassuring for those of us who have been made to feel like our woman-on-woman impulses are automatically corrupt. “I was nine when I told him I wanted to marry Beyoncé so I could kiss her every day,” for example. Adorable! And “One thing’s for sure—if she’s not flirting, she is trying to kill me. And so help me God I can’t think of a sweeter way to go.” That would make a great tag line for the whole book.
I want to give Samara a hug and a pep talk when she says, “I swear, I have a thirteen-year- old-boy obsession with your boobs. I can’t believe you don’t notice how often I stare at them.” My lovely young fellow Southerner–a lot of us like breasts. Lesbian fiction, by lesbians, from lesbian publishing houses, is no stranger to descriptions of beautiful bosoms. But society lies to us and tells us that these desires make us male-like (or worse, “thirteen-year-old boys”–don’t worry, I say the same things to myself in my dark moments) when that is every bit not true. We are us, and we are okay, and we are valid.
This is not a criticism of the author because I know from personal experience that it’s realistic for women-loving women to feel the way Samara does. Dahlia is right and we need to do a better job of teaching young women-loving women that, within the bounds of consent, their love is okay. Including their physical love. This is an exquisitely sensual book, with sex scenes that are erotic in a poetic rather than pornographic way, and G-rated scenes full of lace and skin and curves and hair that just feel freaking validating because I guess the author must like a lot of the same things about women’s bodies that I do.
I have to commend the book for not going down a handful of roads I was expecting, typical romance novel tropes that I don’t like and I always have to push past like walking through rain to get from my car into the building. In other words if reading the blurb makes you nervous that this or that difficult scene is going to happen–it won’t. It does have its own difficult scenes but they’re not those scenes, if that makes sense. For example, you-the-reader don’t actually have to meet Sam’s shitty parents. So it’s gentle representation of someone dealing with a bigoted family.
I don’t entirely understand the climactic scene where the two girls are trying to resolve their problems and work out what they are to each other, and the conversation kinda gave me whiplash from the way they kept changing their minds, but eh, it got a sweet story to the ending it was supposed to have, so, that’s cool.
The friends are also an important element in this book. Frankie has one of those found-families you develop in college–I’m still fairly close with mine. (I still can’t get over one of them being a supervisor with people who work for her and shit. 😀 ) They have easy, casual banter like:
“Someday they’ll ask Frankie to paint over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and all she’ll say about it is, ‘Whatever, Michelangelo’s dead so they clearly just picked some rando’,” Lizzie adds.
In one of these friendship scenes I noticed a detail I thought was cute: a couple who automatically take the foods they don’t like off each other’s plates.
I notice Cait and Mase out of the corner of my eye—she’s daintily putting okra from her pinakbet on Mase’s plate, while he puts his tomatoes on hers.
This is one of those details from friendship and marriage that I love noticing in real life but have never seen in a book before. (I get the onions, Glassmasculine gets the pepperoncini. And several of my besties give me their tomatoes.) Stuff like this makes a book feel more real instead of just an excuse to get two cute girls together.
By the way, one of the people in Frankie’s QUILTBAG social group, as opposed to her mostly straight inner circle, is a bi hijabi. Can’t speak to the accuracy since I’m not Muslim but I trust Dahlia to have checked with the right people. The book also includes trans walk-ons. (Incidentally it’s also a good thing that she has her lead not having all cis het friends–I’ve got a lot of close cis het friends but I also have a lot of bi and trans close friends so it would be weird if everyone else in the book were straight except for the leading f/f couple.)
I received an ARC for an unbiased review and the book comes out in June 2016 but is available for preorder.