If I Tell You, by Alicia Tuckerman: On growing up in small country towns
“That’s the thing about hearts […] they’re not vases – you can’t keep em up high on a shelf for fear of them breakin’. You’ve just gotta hope the people you share ’em with are careful.”
I have always loved to read, and for as long as I can remember I’ve found characters in books that have helped me make sense of my life, of the world around me. When I was a teenager, though, growing up in a small country town and feeling like an alien, not fitting in with anyone around me, I found reading always to be an exercise in travel. Books transported me to other worlds – quite literally, because they were never set in places that seemed familiar to me. The few books I recall reading when I was in high school that featured an Australian setting were either urban or historical. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – Playing Beattie Bow and Harp in the South are still firm favourites of mine from that period. But if I think about the books that really spoke to me, that impacted my experience and helped me develop my sense of self? They were all set in the US, and mostly in locations and families that reflected nothing of my reality. That’s part of the beauty of fiction, I guess, and one of the things I love about reading, but I remember wanting sometimes to just read a book that felt like home.
This book though? I wish I’d read this when I was in high school. From the first few pages it felt familiar to me. Two Creeks is the country town I grew up in, although the families in my area relied more on mining than farming. These kids were the ones I survived through high school with. The challenges of being not quite normal that are faced by the central character felt so authentic to me, despite them being different in nature to what I experienced. I was fully unprepared for the emotional impact of this book, and the tears sprung unbidden as I neared the end. The sense of feeling like you need to hide your true self because the people around you won’t understand, and won’t accept you? I wish I could say that’s something I experienced only as a teen, but it’s followed me into my adulthood. It’s getting easier to deal with as I get older, but those intense pangs of first opening up to someone, and trusting them with your heart, they’re still fresh.
This book is an important one on the OzYA landscape, and if I was still in a school library I’d be promoting the hell out of it to my teen readers. Its authentic setting is one young readers need to see – it makes a difference to see your world reflected in the stories around you. And this goes doubly so for the representation present in the characters. Lesbian love stories don’t appear much on paper, and certainly not for young adult readers. Alicia Tuckerman’s love story matters, and thankfully it’s beautifully written, so I’m not just recommending it because representation matters. It’s a quality read, even if you aren’t a country girl thankful to finally see her reality reflected in fiction, or a gay girl who’s sick of reading every other version of a love story except yours. Get this book into your face. You won’t regret it.*
*Take tissues though. You’ve been warned.