Bi Book Club: Some Girls Do

By Natalie Schriefer

February 05, 2024

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Photo credit: Image/Putnam

Jennifer Dugan’s 2021 YA romance Some Girls Do is a classic meet-cute: out and proud lesbian Morgan is chasing her older brother’s car through a crowded parking lot when Ruby, a pageant queen with a tough-as-nails reputation, nearly runs her over. Which is maybe not a classic meet-cute after all, but it serves the same narrative purpose: two characters, whose lives would have never crossed otherwise, meet. Nothing is the same for either of them, after that.

Some Girls Do switches between Morgan and Ruby’s points of view. Both high school seniors, the former is an elite runner who was forced to transfer schools because of her queerness. While her parents sue for discrimination, Morgan moves in with her older brother for a fresh start, where she intends to be out, loud, and proud. She wears rainbows and sapphic t-shirts, she volunteers at the local pride center, and her name is all over the internet because of her parents’ lawsuit. Morgan couldn’t hide from her sexuality if she wanted to.

Image/Putnam

Ruby, on the other hand, is living a double life: one for her mother, who’s obsessed with pageants, and a second for herself, a girl who loves working on her car. She’s the perfect foil for Morgan, so deep in the closet that she doesn’t even know she’s in there at first. On the surface Ruby seems heterosexual: she has a friends-with-benefits situation with lacrosse captain Tyler, and she doesn’t seem interested in anything (or anyone) else. But Ruby, readers slowly learn, is taking advantage of bi erasure. She lets rumors circulate about her and Tyler because she’s learned, at home, that heterosexuality is safe.

Only quarter-way through the book does Ruby acknowledge an intense childhood friendship with a girl named Katie; we’re past the halfway point when Ruby shows off her workstation at the garage, which includes a bulletin board of models posing with cars — all women. And with rumors about her and Tyler floating about, it’s easy to convince others that she likes those pictures only for the cars.

This dichotomy between Ruby and Morgan — who have different hobbies, backgrounds, and understandings of their own queerness — makes for a tumultuous opposites-attract story. These two characters couldn’t be more different if they tried, and their attempts to relate to one another are difficult at times, full of faux pas. Morgan and Ruby struggle with themselves. They struggle with each other. They struggle with the way the world them impacts them, Ruby with her mom’s homophobia and Morgan with the politics of queer rights — and all of this lends a realness to their narrative. They don’t feel like one-dimensional characters. They feel full and complex, never one-note.

This is true even when Ruby, who’s exploring her sexuality, errs towards the bisexual disaster stereotype, the confused bi trope, and even the distrustful bi stereotype — though Dugan works each of these into the novel, she also refutes them by showing the fullness of Ruby’s character. For example, multiple characters call Ruby a disaster, and in many ways her life is a mess at the start of the novel, but as the story progresses, we get to see her formulate, for the first time, a plan of her own; instead of continuing the pageant circuit after graduation as her mother desires, Ruby realizes she wants to attend an automotive program instead. She then begins working on a plan to make that happen — taking control of her own life in the process. Goodbye, bi disaster!

My one quibble with Some Girls Do isn’t with the novel itself, but instead the book jacket. It simplifies Morgan and Ruby to “openly gay track star” and “closeted, bisexual teen beauty queen” respectively, which would be fine if these descriptors were true. The book jacket’s casual use of “bisexual” made it seem as though Ruby would be certain about her sexuality from the start — certain about it, but hiding it.

But that isn’t entirely accurately: Ruby is pretty uncertain about labels. This uncertainty is, of course, valid, but the book jacket feels misleading. It advertises one queer experience (being closeted and bi from the start) while delivering another (realizing she might be bi, and closeted, over the course of the novel). In fact, bisexuality comes up only twice in the novel proper, both in the second half of the story, and both times as a possibility only: once when Ruby comes out to her ex-stepfather “I might be bi or something”, and then again when Ruby tells Morgan that she isn’t sure what to call herself “Bi? Pan? The label thing still freaks me out”. This uncertainty reads more as a teen beauty queen exploring bisexuality than a bi teen beauty queen.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that exploration, but it feels, to me, that the book jacket speaks for Ruby in a way that doesn’t mesh with her character. It’s important for her to choose a label for herself — a statement that is less important for Ruby, who’s a fictional character, but very critical for the real people who need time and space to explore and understand their queerness.

To be clear: My quibble is with the book jacket, not Dugan’s novel. Ruby’s bi awakening, stumbling and halting though it may be, is illustrated tenderly, with nuance and emotion. Many of my recent reads — including Rachel Reid’s Time to Shine, Hayley Jakobson’s Old Enough, and Sophie Gonzales’s Perfect on Paper — feature characters who are comfortable with their bisexuality from page one. I love many things about this kind of book; as someone who came out in their mid-20s, I spent years looking for confident bi people to help me build my own confidence. But there’s no one way to come out, and no one way to be bi, and Ruby is a reminder that it’s okay if a label doesn’t feel perfect right away — or ever. It’s okay to not like labels at all. It’s okay to not be sure where you fit. I just wish the book jacket reflected this nuance more accurately.

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