By Jeff Walsh
Once again, Julie Anne Peters has written an engaging book with a young narrator. But in "Between Mom and Jo," Nick isn't struggling with his sexuality, but with the eventual breakup of his lesbian parents. He calls his biological mother "Mom," and her partner "Jo," but they both raised him.
The book starts before the breakup, but we see it coming. Mom is the provider in the house, who keeps everything going, whereas Jo can't hold down a job and sometimes drinks. There are issues between Jo and her in-laws, who haven't interacted much since the commitment ceremony. The whole situation is a powder keg, but when it comes to Nick, everyone is united in their love for him, and wanting to do what's best.
He gets teased at school about being a freak raised by freaks. At 14, he is also at the age where he's difficult to handle because of his own sexuality and emotions. When Mom and Jo finally break up, the situation meant to be better for everyone doesn't really work out that way.
Peters deftly balances a world where a book for young adults puts them in the middle of a divorce, and all of the ugliness that inhabits that institution. The fact that his parents are both women is addressed honestly, but is not really the issue of the book. By not writing the perfect lesbian couple raising a smart, accepting boy, it yanks the spotlight off of the sexuality by just making it a stark, human issue. Their lesbianism is just a factor in a divorce story, for which we are hopeful of a happy outcome.
Ideally, sexuality is something boring. It is a characteristic that often comes with unnecessary baggage of politics, societal pushback, and reticence. To be fair, I also think this makes for a more-enriching life, since non-heterosexual life is something that needs to be explored in our culture, whereas you can be straight and never have to introspect before death. But we can't just say I'm gay and carry on as we did the day before. Whether it should change things or not, it does.
By not making sexuality the keystone of the book, it broadens the audience. By taking the mystique out of the lesbian relationship, it humanizes it. By the time the book wraps up, it was about three characters that we came to know, with all their faults. We care about them and want things to work out as best it can.
What a great little treasure of a book.