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Pulp by Robin Talley - Review

Saturday, February 2, 2019


Where did I get it? I was poking around Netgalley and it was appearing as a "read now". I don't know enough about Netgalley to say whether that was just for me or generally or what, but I'd been wanting to read this book so I immediately downloaded it. Then, because I'm trying to read books I'm excited about straight away rather than put them off for months (I don't know why I do that) I started it just after the Maggie Stiefvater book. Thank you Negalley gods, anyway!

What's it about? It's about the lesbian pulp fiction books of the 1950s, which I'd heard of but don't know much about. There's a dual narrative. In 1955 we meet Janet, who's just graduated from high school and who is in love with her best friend Marie. The times mean that they can't be together; Marie's government job means that they have to be even more careful. Janet buys a pulp fiction book and falls in love with the genre and feels validated because she didn't know there were so many girls like her. She writes to the author and receives a reply, so begins to write her own book about two girls falling in love. 

In the other narrative we meet Abby, who is seventeen in 2017 and in her senior year of high school, about to apply to colleges. She and her girlfriend Linh broke up a few months ago and Abby's struggling with the feelings she still has for Linh. She loves lesbian pulp fiction books and wants to know what happened to an author called Marian Love. She also starts to write her own book in the genre, although she's trying to subvert the tropes. Her parents are falling apart but Abby buries herself in the mystery of what happened to Marian Love.

Interspersed are extracts from the novels mentioned, which I really liked reading. I would definitely read one of them in full! 

I liked the book, it's fun and moving all at the same time. I liked the stuff about how the 1950s and in particular McCarthyism meant that Janet couldn't be out about who she was. I liked that she got some good lesbian experiences, though - she has sex and she meets other lesbians in a bar. I liked that you could see the difference that sixty years of civil rights movements have made and that although things aren't perfect for Abby in 2017, she's able to be out to her family and has a ton of queer friends around her. I like how politically engaged both girls were, that's very relevant to today's teens. I liked the ending, it felt very real and was a happyish ending even if not perfect. 

I felt like some of the stuff about writing and getting published was quite meta, I felt like there was a lot of Robin's own experiences in there, which didn't detract at all from the book but which made me - an aspiring author - laugh a bit. I'm glad Robin put these bits in, it feels like she probably had fun with them. 

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously! There's a non binary person too which was nice to see although they were a secondary character. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Linh is Vietnamese American and Abby is Jewish, although these aren't central themes to the book but are mentioned. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's really lovely 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No I don't think so 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, somewhat violent but not explicit 

Are there swear words? Not that I recall 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I got a bit frustrated with Abby towards the end of the book, but I did feel sympathetic towards her 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It's ages since I read anything by Robin and I've heard really amazing things about this book so I wanted to see for myself. 

What other books is it like? It is like Robin's other books and like Becky Albertalli's. The stuff with Abby really reminded me of Leah on the Offbeat. 

How many stars? Eight out of ten! Lovely book, I'm glad I read it


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