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 The Female Man by Joanna Russ.
Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice by April Sinclair is the sequel to Coffee Will Make You Black (catch that review here). When we reunite with our protagonist, Stevie, she is finishing up her college education and taking a trip to the west coast, looking to celebrate before starting her adult life. But her trip to San-Fran complicates things quickly and forces Stevie’s neglected journey of identity.
This novel is less concerned with historical contexts than its parent book and dives more into gay and lesbian subculture in 1970s San Francisco—the good and the bad. The plot and relationships between characters also navigate the variations of culture in different races (mostly black and white), and especially under the lens of the queer community and the tension this can create.
While in California, Stevie gets wrapped into lesbian culture and has meaningful relationships with both men and women in the book. The book includes lesbians, gay men, bisexual characters, and a few questioning characters. Some of the relationships between characters express open and/or polyamorous dynamics, but this is not at the focus.
This novel is a lot more about being queer than the previous book. Since the setting shifts to San Francisco, the storyline includes less homophobia (apart from a coming out scene with Stevie’s mother, but her mom is so irrelevant it hardly matters). Although Stevie overcame much of her internalized homophobia in the first book, she still cares a great deal about what people think, especially her black brothas and sistas.
The book does introduce bisexuality into this narrative more so by including bisexual characters and having Stevie consider her place on the queer spectrum herself. However, the bisexual characters are often painted in a negative light. I wouldn’t consider this good bisexual representation, but I think the book was trying to accomplish a positive representation here. (This is debatable. More about this in the spoilers section.)
There’s also a straight male character convinced he’s going to turn Stevie straight, which is the worst part of the book.
Like the previous book, this novel seems to deliver a message about being yourself, which is generally a great message. However, throughout the book, Stevie questions her identity on the queer spectrum. After dating a girl for a while, she adopts the lesbian label easily, but when they breakup, she isn’t so sure. A rotten straight man tries to turn Stevie straight, and Stevie just lets him off the hook for all of his disgusting comments by having sex with him. And thus, really questioning her attraction to men and women.
My issue with this isn’t about Stevie’s identity crisis and her confusion around attraction, but with the way the plot handles this homophobic straight man coming in to change Stevie’s mind about being a lesbian. Why? Because it kind of worked. No, he never “turned her straight,” but she did stop using the lesbian label after having sex with him, making her reconsider her attraction to men. Again, it’s okay that she’s not a lesbian!!! But by making her sleep with a homophobic male character whose intention was to make her attracted to men again, and have that actually come true, it validated his goals instead of villainizing them, thus, granting him permission to be lesbophobic in the first place. If Sinclair wanted Stevie to reconsider her attraction to men, she could’ve just left out the lesbophobic traits altogether. Or at the very least, affirm that the comments weren’t okay.
My second issue deals with the use of bisexuals in the plot. A gay man (among other characters) vocally express their distaste for bisexuals and push the negative stereotypes onto the identity label. This isn’t The Worst Thing because Stevie doesn’t really buy into it, but she doesn’t condemn the comments either. Later on, a bisexual character comes into the story, and she’s definitely the most self-absorbed character in the book, making the only representation of bisexuals not that great. The real kicker here though, is how, by definition, Stevie herself is bisexual, attracted to two (or more) genders, but she never uses the label for herself. Instead, she comes to the realization that regardless of her attraction, she can just exist without a label. That’s a fine sentiment and good message to send, but when it’s coupled with the fact Stevie’s only run-in with bisexuality was a shitty person and negative stereotypes, it just sounds like a case of internalized biphobia.
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with the sequel. I loved Coffee Will Make You Black a lot, so this was a big let-down.
Have you read either of the Sinclair books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post or it helped you avoid buying a book, consider sparing $3 to support my blog! Or, become a patron with access to book updates and exclusive posts for $1/month. As always, sharing the post helps the most!