Despite the horrors of events such as the massacre in Orlando, there’s little question we’re in the midst of dramatic societal changes in support and respect for LGBT folks. But pockets of prejudice and bigotry remain, especially in small towns like the one depicted by Robin Lippincott and Julia Watts in their YA novel, Rufus + Syd.
Growing up in Vermillion, Georgia is no picnic for fifteen-year-old gay teen Rufus, the son of right-wing Christian, parents. Even walking home from school can be dangerous.
But things dramatically improve when he meets sixteen-year-old Syd, a transplant from Kentucky who’s spent her life taking care of her hairdresser single mom. With her spiky hair, black eyeliner, and snarky attitude, Syd doesn’t fit in either. Immediately drawn to one another, their friendship blossoms.
Told in alternating voices, Rufus and Syd recount how they survived a tumultuous year with the support of one another, as well as two older friends—Josephine, a bohemian who’s moved back to Vermillion after running a cinema in Chicago, and Cole, a middle-aged gay man suffering from brain damage after having been badly beaten up as a teen.
Nothing goes easily for Syd or Rufus. Syd falls in love for the first time, but her new girlfriend turns out to be more interested in drugs than her relationship with Syd. When Syd’s mother gets pregnant and announces that Syd will need to forget college and stay home to help her with the baby, Syd makes the difficult decision to leave town to move in with Josephine’s friends in Chicago. Rufus and Syd miss each other terribly. Letters fly back and forth between the two. And then, like Cole a generation earlier, Rufus gets badly beaten up by some local gay-haters.
Fortunately, Rufus recovers, and the novel ends on a hopeful note. Both Rufus and Syd have become more comfortable with themselves, surer of where they want to go in life, and more confident that they’re capable of finding their way. Teen readers who feel like they don’t fit in at home or at school for whatever reason will cheer them on.
And chances are, they’ll wish for an amazing friend like Rufus or Syd. Above all, this beautifully written novel speaks to the transformative power of friendship.
RUFUS + SYD
By Robin Lippincott and Julia Watts
194 pp. Harmony Ink Press. $14.99