Tuckerman, Alicia. If I Tell You. Neutral Bay: Pantera Press, 2018. RRP $19.99, 325pp, ISBN: 978-0-646-96125-5
We can’t control who we are attracted to, be it men, women or both. Just like we can’t stop the reactions, judgements or criticisms of others when we share our romantic feelings with the world. Alicia Tuckerman’s debut Young Adult novel, If I Tell You focuses on a female relationship in the face of ‘a small town with small minds’ (Cover Copy).
The novel’s title expresses the internal conflict that its protagonist, Alex Summers, grapples with. If I Tell You, these feelings will become my reality. If I Tell You, what’s going to happen? If I Tell You, will I still be accepted as Alex Summers or will I be branded Alex the ‘lezzo’ (4) for life?
At fourteen, Alex made the realisation she was gay based upon the magazine clippings of decapitated grooms hidden underneath her bed and from the reoccurring dream of her wedding where she edges closer to the bride. But it’s the arrival of seventeen-year-old Phoenix Stone and her eccentric family that causes these formidable feelings to surface.
Phoenix sets the residents of ‘picture postcard town, Two Creeks’ (11) tongues’ wagging by her appearance: sleeve tattoo, cut off shorts, backwards cap and the rainbow emblem stitched on her backpack. She’s loud and proud and doesn’t appear bothered by the vandalism to her fence with the word ‘DYKE’. ‘It’s just a word. And besides, it’s my word and I’ll wear it like a fucking badge of honour’ (53). She makes it quite clear to Alex she’s not interested in hiding who she is.
The book has the pacing of a small town just like Two Creeks—a fictional place ‘nestled in a wheat belt populated by several generations of five families and the occasional “outsider” who withstood years of hazing before being considered a local.’ (11) The country town serves as a character itself, dominating the views and opinions of the community. It’s a stereotypical rural setting in how it deems society should be.
The town is divided by Phoenix’s presence but it’s clear which side Alex’s Mother, Veronica Summers, is on. She dubs Phoenix as ‘depraved’ and advises her daughter against befriending ‘these people’ (37). In love and inspired by Phoenix and her ‘you should jump’ (123) attitude, Alex starts opening-up about her homosexuality. This solidifies the relationship between Alex and her father but severs the one with her mother, as ‘having a gay daughter would be the ultimate failure and Veronica Summers did not fail’ (37). In the face of her mother’s domineering views, Alex knows she can’t hide who she is anymore. And what’s more she doesn’t want to.
Justin is Alex’s boy next door and best friend growing up. He’s deeply in love with her. Justin plays a part in helping Alex discover she prefers girls by kissing her, ‘I thought there was something wrong with me because I felt absolutely nothing, slightly less than when I’d made out with my pillow’ (14). His character showcases how girls can break hearts just as easily as boys.
If I Tell You includes an afterword that gives some interesting insights into the author’s thinking behind the novel: Alex’s story is similar to the author’s life experience growing up in a rural community. Tuckerman now lives in Swan Valley with her partner Erin ‘who has, at times, referred to herself as a “book widow”‘ (323) whilst Tuckerman wrote the novel. As well as relating to her own adolescence, Alicia Tuckerman states she was keen to write the novel after spotting a shortage of books hosting a girl on girl love story for young adults, an area she is particularly passionate about.
If I Tell You has an extended narrative deeper than sexuality. It’s about identification. Being brave in being different. Living life to the fullest as you never know what’s around the corner. It’s about how love can surprise us, take many forms and inspire us to be better. To love better. Both ourselves and other people. How love has the power to do many things both good and bad. It’s about living your life the way you want to live it in the face of others who disagree with your choices. It’s about being the best, happiest, most fulfilled version of yourself and saying to hell with anybody who wishes to see you different.
Joanne Morrell is a local writer of children’s and young adult fiction. She conducts author events around Perth’s writer’s centres and libraries on subjects such as social media. Her non-fiction business Author Linings will launch later this year providing material on the emotional and physical aspects of building a successful author career.