It’s Monday, and that doesn’t mean anything on this blog generally, but today it means it’s time to host a stop on the blog tour for Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe! It is a book, and it was recently published, and I will now tell you what I thought of it and also give you a chance to win a copy. Isn’t that great of me? I know, I’m awesome.
So this is the synopsis of the book, because it’s fine and I don’t feel like writing my own:
In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation – it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell planned to pass as a man and marry seventeen-year-old Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden to ever speak again. Desperate and isolated, Alice pilfered her father’s razor, and on a cold winter’s day, she slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Now more than 120 years later, their tragic but true story is being told. Alice + Freda Forever, by historian Alexis Coe and with illustrations by Sally Klann, is embellished with letters, maps, historical documents, and more.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because you might have read Sara Farizan’s novel If You Could Be Mine last year, which is, of course, fiction, but also deals with lesbians who come up with a craaaazy idea to pose as male (well, as transmale in the case of Farizan’s book) just to be able to be with the women they love. If the novel was problematic because it may have the unintended effect of helping people to conflate sexual orientation with gender identity, this book, at least, tells a true story, so you can’t fault the author for being problematic, only the girls in it. And I can’t really blame them, since it was 1892 and whether Alice might have considered herself transgender would have been a complete nonissue and incomprehensible idea, and also because the times they lived in were not at all going to accept two women in a relationship. Also, it takes place in the United States, not Iran, and more than 100 years earlier than Farizan’s contemporary novel, so that’s where the similarities stop. But I did find it interesting that there are two recent books that deal with wacky, problematic things that teen girls do when society says being gay is not cool.
Okay, I’ll stop being flippant.
This book was interesting but also quite hard to follow. It gets better as it goes on, because the real story isn’t the doomed love affair but the trial that came afterward, and all it said about gender inequality, racial politics in the American South, and courtroom antics. Quotes from judges, lawyers, and journalists that exhibit their absolute inability to comprehend how women could experience pleasure together or not want children and the origins of the insanity defense are really what are interesting about this whole case. The book could have been a bit more compelling, I think, if Alice and Freda’s letters had been integrated more fully into the first part of the book so that you understand the love story, rather than being an appendix at the end. Exciting thriller this book is not, but it does present a side of history that is not often examined. It’s a book worth considering, and I am really interested to see what its reception will be.
And now for the fun part: if you found this intriguing enough to decide for yourself how you feel, Zest Books has a copy for you! Click here to enter the giveaway!