Dress Codes for Small Towns Review

The Hexagon (Eventually) Stole My Heart // Author: Courtney Stevens // Rating: 3/5

dresscodeforsmalltownsSynopsis: As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.

Lavender

Honestly, it’s a relief to know that pieces exist beyond the Hexagon. Without safe people, I would climb a tree and never come down.

Dress Codes for Small Towns takes place in a small town (whoda thunk?) which is populated with the usual // casual bigotry stemming from a church full of mostly well-meaning folk, a dying tradition of presenting one worthy woman the town’s Corn Dolly award, and a gaggle of teens that are coming in to their own (with their sexuality and labels and outward appearances, and within their own friend group that’s struggling with keeping things the same while everything and everyone is changing).

It took me a slow, languid, boring minute to get into this story. There was a lot of focus on the minutia of this small town that just did not interest me, and less on successfully introducing our main characters, which are dubbed the Hexagon, but the focus of the story is really on four of them, and then just three (who are amazing and I love them!! but more on my favorite Triangle since Chris Evans later).

This is what I think makes it so hard to get into this novel // some characters receive little to no focus (but are important in some capacity to our MC) and that’s unfortunate. But when Stevens’ shines her narrative light on some of her characters, it’s wonderful. There are quite a few kids in here to just love on, because they are thoughtful and sometimes scared, but they’re figuring themselves out and it’s quite lovely to see. The first half of this book was a struggle; the latter half I was grinning with pleasure and groaning in sympathy for Billie and her love interests. Based on that second half I would rec this book to people looking for a solid summer-y contemporary, that’s a quiet shout of a confirmation that people have the capacity to change and that there’s strength on leaning on your friends for support, even when they sometimes throw annoying curve balls at you.

Lavender

The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends—a pixie, a  president, a pretender, a puker, and a d-bag—and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.

For All That is Corn(Hole)y // The Bad

  • Billie and her not-quite-Hexagon // Billie, our tomboyish-artistic-impulsive-projecting-conflicted PK with the biggest heart, has a core group of friends. There’s Janie Lee, the sweet daughter of the town drug dealer that Billie actually met while saving her from drowning, and whom Billie has more than platonic feelings for; Woods, who’s destined to be town mayor, and whom Billie considers as something more until she, in one of the worst metaphors I’ve ever read*, figures out they’re better as just friends; Davey, prodigal-rich-son-returned / secret-cosplayer-extraordinaire-badass WHOM I LOVE, and whom Billie also loves I MEAN HOW COULD YOU NOT; and then the last two of the Hexagon… Well. “the puker and d-bag” or Mash and Fifty as they’re more well-known… Sorry, they add nothing to the plot. I’m not really sure what happened there. Maybe because Hexagon sounds cooler than Square? It’s hip to be, ahem, anywho, I’m sorry, but literally Mash just vomits. That’s his character. Which is a shame because he’s biracial, but that gets lost in the lack of story attributed to him. In fact, his parents just seem to be used as an example of how a lot of the town is hung up on petty gossip and being racist, and how Big T, the grandpa figure to everyone who has just passed, was a cool dude and not racist and walked his black daughter-in-law down the aisle proudly. And I laughed sometimes at Fifty’s jokes, (especially when he stood up for Davey against his awful dad)… but that’s it. That’s his character, the rude funnyman. It’s just a shame that those two didn’t get much attention, because I think I would have liked them, if they were more than just their most distinctive character trait… Seriously, poor Mash.

* “Because it was one thing to tease him about his imaginary gigantic balls, but it was quite another to deflate them.” LORDY NO Billie why would you do this to my brain??

  • My lil sensitive self and this uncool exchange // Woods @ Billie: If you’re hurting yourself or suicidal and don’t tell me, “I’m gonna give you a real tombstone.” How touching. Billie: “I nearly open a vein and tell him everything.” GDI T__T I just will never be there for this flippant use of gross metaphors. Or for telling people who are depressed/suicidal, “If you don’t talk to me, I’m going to be pissed at you and give you a real tombstone.”
  • Billie and her spineless dad // So much of the plot revolves around Billie and how she presents as a not-feminine or prim and proper preacher’s daughter and how the town (mostly rich, awful ladies who leave the church?? Because of her throwing a football) can’t stand it. And Billie’s father, who’s one of those “gays are fine just not my daughter” people, doesn’t fight for her. He’s not much of a leader, or a supportive father, and I have this from my notes about him at one point: “I hate you, you weak little man” so yeah. Not fun reading about him. Selfish dads like him exist, hypocritical preachers like him exist, so I think it was believable/compelling, but I certainly didn’t enjoy how awful he was to his daughter and how he was never really called out for it.

What would it be like to be raised by a couple who say  things like “Fall in love with a person, Billie,” rather than a minister who says things like “Hate the sin and love the sinner”?

I Am Actually A Boss at Cornhole (that and Beer Pong, that’s it, that’s my sportsball ability) // The Good

  • I really love Billie’s whirlwind of emotion at being put on the guy’s side of the dance date board // Having a label foisted upon you is no fun. Reading about Billie’s internal, and outward, struggles with her sexuality, figuring out that it can be fluid, that it’s your journey, no one else’s, was beautiful to read. She’s a great character (when she’s not boring me with small town tidbits) and she has quite a few sides to her, which were fun to explore with her. She’s very, very giving and loves her small town so much and just wants to have everything stay the same, while still getting the chance to experiment and grow and change and adventure and come home, to a home that is imperfect, but home to so many of the souls that she’s loved through childhood, that have made her her. I may not want her small town life, but I could definitely see why she loves it so, and why she fights so hard, not just to be accepted by the older folks, but to give younger kids hope, that things can get better, because the more voices that are allowed to be truly themselves, the better off we all are.

I’d like to believe my generation is different. We’d give a Corn Dolly to a gay woman. We’ve all read enough, watched enough, YouTubed enough to understand sexuality isn’t black and white. What do we care who someone finds attractive or falls in love with? But that doesn’t mean you don’t need a machete and some body armor if you want to walk the openly gay road in Otters Holt.

  • Billie’s saintly mom // I mean, she wasn’t in it much, but good golly, I loved her. Why didn’t we see more of her!? She was so understanding and encouraging and I’m so grateful Billie had her because otherwise?? “Mom and I, well, we exist in a much more incorporeal space. I don’t measure her love in hours spent with me. I measure it in hours spent understanding me.” I want that so much!!

Somehow my introverted mother has mastered the art of marching to her own drum in a rhythm people appreciate.

  • Janie Lee and Billie and Davey, This OT3 Is Coolcoolcool // The development of this trio’s interactions in the latter half of the book are what made the book for me. Bravo Stevens for putting an open-ended, potentially polyamorous, definitely respectful and loving, trio in a YA book. I mean, they both are pivoting around Billie, so not poly on the page, but this lil somehow actually wonderful love triangle is so well-written!! THANK. Janie Lee and Billie are great compliments to each other, different kinds of adventurous and dreamy and I could see them inspiring each other artistically and romantically (whether they’re together or apart) for years to come. And Davey, OMG Davey. He is the freaking best. He’s a friend that you can talk to, no offhand threats or weird expectations or judgement at all. He is so respectful to Billie and Janie Lee in not throwing himself into the mix while Billie is figuring things out. He is a little bit further in the self-reflection and being comfortable-in-your-own-skin game, and in not giving a flip what random strangers think. He was a joy to read.

Thinking of yourself as boyish is one thing, but your friends assigned you a gender—without asking—and that flayed you. If I had to speculate, you’re actually upset because you believe they should know you well enough to avoid such an error. Which isn’t totally fair to you or them. Gender, sexuality, fluidity: those areas require stumbling around in the dark, feeling, and bumping into things. But even if you can admit that, you still feel out of control. And probably lonely.

Lavender

There is more than one way to add color to the world. More than one way to crown a queen.

This is such a hopeful book. It starts out molasses slow, but I fell in love with some of the characters by the end of it. It has some truly wonderful messages about figuring yourself out, about friendship dynamics and how things can change but that change isn’t something to fear, and about how the more you live your life, for yourself and those closest to you, the more beauty will start to color and inspire the world around you.

For now we listen as the mayor calls steps and the band unleashes more fiddle than seems possible. The Hexagon becomes heart-shaped.

 

5 thoughts on “Dress Codes for Small Towns Review

  1. I can’t imagine how you can stop loving your daughter because of her sexuality. Even if your faith is forbidding it, still cannot stop you from loving your children. *sigh* The few things that should allow you to not accept/disown your son/daughter should be because they unjustifiably killed someone, raped or committed a sexual offence (or was complicit in them). Those are acceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

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