‘Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way. This novel in verse about two girls discovering their feelings for each other is a universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin.’
I read Redwood and Ponytail cover to cover in one sitting and just didn’t want to put it down. I loved the format of the story, being that the whole narrative is told in verse that includes the thoughts and feelings of Kate and Tam while incorporating their own dialogue and the dialogue of other characters, such as Kate’s sister and Tam’s mother. Every so often, commentary is offered by the Alexes, three girls who serve as a chorus of sorts and bring to light the observations of the school crowd while serving as omniscient narrators. As a Classicist, this is one of the things that I really enjoyed about the structure of the novel and I have to say I would happily read several more books about Kate and Tam written in exactly the same style.
Of Kate and Tam, it’s perhaps Kate’s story that is more complicated, for most of the people in her life, notably her mother, are the ones who don’t want her to be herself, but who they perceive and want her to be. One of the more upsetting features of the story is how Kate’s mother focuses so intently on telling Kate that she is beautiful and must be ‘normal’ and that she has to be everything that her mother wishes her to be, all the while without taking into account what Kate actually wants. It’s plain to see that her mother is trying to live vicariously through her daughter’s achievements, nearly all of which she tries to manipulate, from telling her exactly how she has to behave and what her goals are, to buying the friendship of Kate’s circle of ‘friends’ with tickets to concerts. Her parenting has created in Kate a desperate need to fit in and be the best; the one others look to for guidance and who effortlessly draws attention to her with her perfection. It’s when she begins to realise that her feelings for Tam are making her behave in ways the world insists isn’t ‘normal’ that she begins to panic and shut out everything and everyone who risks exposing her as not the girl everyone believes her to be, just as she is getting to grips with understanding that she doesn’t want to be the person she’s being driven to be.
Tam has more people in her life who are supportive of her choices as she gradually realises the extent of her feelings for Kate, her mother in particular a stark contrast to the behaviour of Kate’s in accepting and feeling joyful about her daughter’s feelings without questioning them. She also has the support of her neighbours, who give her the space to reflect on her feelings and advise based on their own experiences, Frankie having travelled a path that many feel forced down. That Tam has this extended family network in her life makes her coming to terms with her own feelings easier than Kate’s experience, but she struggles with Kate’s behaviour and that of her friends, especially in that they seem superficial and vapid when together as a group, making Kate become a girl that she simply doesn’t know and can’t reconcile with how she sees her. For Kate’s sake more than her own, she tries to fit in with her social circle, but finds herself unable to share their interests or views, with these attempts ultimately ending badly when she can’t bring herself to sacrifice her principles or feelings. For Tam, based on her experience of the world, acceptance is a more simple thing than for Kate, whose life is full of illusions and suppressed emotions and desires that go beyond her feelings for Tam.
Redwood and Ponytail is a beautiful story and I’m not ashamed to say I was in tears at the end of it. It’s out today from Abrams and Chronicle! Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy! I would love to see more of Tam and Kate’s stories at some point in the future!