The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes shows a Mexican American girl’s journey of realizing she’s queer and figuring out to hide her queerness at her new high school.
We first meet Yamilet “Yami” Flores punching a mirror out of frustration over quitting her job at a café because her ex-best friend Bianca walked in. Bianca had told the student body at their high school that Yami is gay, without Yami’s approval. In fact, Yami is still trying to figure out her sexuality and her identity and only confided in Bianca. The embarrassment convinces Yami to start at a new high school, Slayton Catholic. Attending school with her younger brother Cesar, who skipped a grade so he’s a junior too, will be a fresh start for Yami, who still needs another job to help pay for tuition since her grades failed to garner a scholarship the way Cesar’s grades did.
Right away, Yami is questioning her decision. The students at her old school are “mostly Black and Brown Chicanes,” while at Slayton 40 minutes away “there’s not a lot of melanin over there.” Yami jokes that she could sell sunscreen to her Slayton classmates to help pay for tuition. At least, she has Cesar by her side. They’re close since Mami works a lot and Papi was deported years ago back to Mexico after getting arrested at an anti-immigration protest though Yami keeps in touch with her father through phone calls, video calls, and text messages.
I put on my favorite gold hoops. They’re not real, but they look it and I like the way the gold frames my face. I feel like Selena Quintanilla. Cute and elegant at the same time. I put extra love into doing my makeup. The hoops and J’s and makeup show all the me the uniform hides. I’m ready.
Once she gets to school, girls named Becky and Karen call her “ghetto” and ask why she’s trying to look like a “chola.” As the microaggressions continue in the school hallways, Yami meets Bo, a girl of Chinese descent who was adopted by White parents and seems to not let anything bother her as the only openly queer girl at Slayton. Yami wants to be unbothered like Bo. She befriends Bo and starts to develop romantic feelings. But Yami feels she has to squash them because she can’t let her queerness drive her out of another school.
Yami throws herself into Mami’s Etsy homemade jewelry business to get her mind off her sexuality. Then she notices her brother acting strange. Once she finds out the double life Cesar is leading, Yami rushes to help him hide it from their mother and from their classmates. But the more she gets closer to Bo, the more Yami wants to tell someone she’s gay. She sends the text message professing her queerness, but there’s no response. The anxiety of hiding her identity overwhelms Yami as she starts collecting secrets to keep everyone around her satisfied with their assumptions of who they think she is.
The novel does a great job of showing a timeline of a 16-year-old girl who is developing feelings for other girls but trying to figure out how to define those feelings and how to define herself. Although she has a supportive family, Yami knows her pious Catholic parents would never approve of her sexuality. And to make matters worse, she thought concealing herself among Catholic school kids would make those feelings go away, make the shame go away. But, of course, Slayton has amplified Yami’s thoughts on navigating queerness as she realizes there are more students like her also struggling with the unfortunate consequences of sharing how they feel with their friends and family.
Changing schools because of bullying is a central issue. Sometimes, it feels like many parents may not know the full extent of why their child wants to switch schools. Here, we have Mami not only clueless about Yami’s sexuality, but she’s also sharing anti-gay sentiment that she has taken from her religion. Yami carries that fear, shame, and sadness of leaving her old school to start anew because of Bianca’s bullying. Bianca was her best friend, so even the issue of losing a close friend is emphasized in the story with Yami’s upset over Bianca resonating through the pages as she goes to a different school where we don’t see Bianca. Mami also doesn’t realize Yami quit her job over simply seeing Bianca in her workplace. The hasty decision-making many teens do eats away at Yami as she holds onto secrets upon secrets just trying to hide who she is.
Overall, the coming-of-age debut novel with hints of romance from author Sonora Reyes who identifies as a “queer second-generation immigrant who attended a Catholic high school” shows how queer teens have several obstacles when it comes to revealing their true selves at school and at home, especially when both places are steeped in a religion that does not condone anything outside heterosexuality. The secrecy is overwhelming as people in their orbit may have some degree of stigmatizing thoughts toward the queer community. Once they reveal themselves, their safety becomes an issue, which is addressed with the fear of being kicked out of their homes or not feeling comfortable in their homes based on telling and not telling family members the truth. This story shows not only Yami jumping through hoops to hide her identity, but other characters are also avoiding the inevitable in their own ways.