Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/NetGalley for a copy of Ode to My First Car in exchange for an honest review.
It’s a few months before senior year and Claire Kemp, a closeted bisexual, is finally starting to admit she might be falling in love with her best friend, Sophia, who she’s known since they were four.
Trying to pay off the fine from the crash that totals Lars, her beloved car, Claire takes a job at the local nursing home up the street from her house. There she meets Lena, an eighty-eight-year-old lesbian woman who tells her stories about what it was like growing up gay in the 1950s and ’60s.
As Claire spends more time with Lena and grows more confident of her identity, another girl, Pen, comes into the picture, and Claire is caught between two loves — one familiar and well-worn, the other new and untested.
Non-Traditional Narrative Structures
I love, love, love that we’re seeing more and more alternative storytelling structures in YA literature. Robin Gow‘s Ode to My First Car is told in verse. Though not the only form that would have been effective, it works exceptionally well.
Claire loses her freedom on the first page of the book: her car. Teenagers (and people in general) are dramatic, and writing poetry to one’s dead car is pretty dramatic. But mourning one’s car isn’t quirky; it’s totally understandable.
One of the most complex parts of passing down queer history is lineage. Queer people aren’t usually born of others in the alphabet mafia. And because of bills like “Don’t Say Gay,” we don’t always learn our history in school. Then there’s ageism.
I love that Claire willingly spends time with an older person and realizes the value in that and that the older person values spending time with a younger one. I grew up in the theatre and am now part of the Jewish community. So, having friends along the age spectrum was always normalized for me. It’s great to see that reflected in YA.
The other relationship I loved in Ode to My First Car was between Claire and her brother Chris. I related so hard to it. My own brother and I had our ups and downs. But it was always us against our parents in the end. Even if it sometimes maybe didn’t have to be.
And, like Claire and Chris, we sometimes had to share a room.
Should You Read It?
Without a doubt. Robin Gow’s Ode to My First Car is one of the most engaging, creative books I’ve read in 2023. It’s uplifting without being unrealistic. I found myself cued in the whole time. It’s also just funny and sweet, a great summer read.
Ode to My First Car is out on June 20, 2023. Pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore or library. 📚🚘👭