Queer book review! All reviews touch on genre/plot, tropes (if any), and quality of gay content, and include both spoiler and spoiler-lite versions. Catch up on my last book review of Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey.
Coffee Will Make You Black is an untold American coming-of-age story featuring a lower-class black girl in the 1960s, following her growth from her pre-teen years through high school. While she juggles growing into society’s perception of her identity and becoming more herself, Stevie’s classmates pressure her to be popular, lose her virginity, and vocalize her distaste for the school’s white nurse.
The novel falls into a historical fiction category with mentions of the civil rights movement and key moments during this time, and it adopts a first-person point-of-view (my personal favorite).
The story is about Jean “Stevie” Stevenson, a protagonist who, in the second half of the book, discovers she may have some “funny” feelings about her school nurse. Don’t worry, the book never falls into that shameful(ly kinky) teacher/student sexual power dynamic. Neither character carry an explicit label for their sexual orientation, but it is assumed they are both on the queer spectrum.
Because of its setting (60s), the story does present issues with Stevie’s sexuality, but many of these are not confrontations between Stevie and another character. (There’s only one proper discussion between Stevie and another character about her sexual orientation, but the conversation remains in hypotheticals.)
Stevie deals with a good amount of internalized homophobia, but not so much that it enforces heterosexuality by the end of the book. Also beware that this is not a book about a queer girl. This is a book about a girl, who at the very end of the story discovers she might be on the spectrum. This is a great book, but it’s not about being gay.
I am happy to report that the gays do not die. Although Stevie develops feelings for her school nurse, the nurse is a responsible adult and does not condone pedophilia: another win for gays everywhere. Instead, the book concludes with the nurse bonding with Stevie in a mentorship-like friendship, leaving Stevie with a hopeful feeling that she is going to turn out okay. The book also gives a very “give yourself time to learn who you are” kind of message, which I appreciate with regards to sexuality. Stevie never quite comes to a conclusion of whether she’s straight, gay, or somewhere in between, but she decides that she is okay with whatever she finds out about herself.
Coming Up Next
My next book review will be for Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Let me know if you’ve read Coffee Will Make You Black and whether you liked it! Like this post if you add it to your reading list!