Today my guest is the wonderful Roberta Blablanski, who is here to talk about her favourite stories set in the 1980s. Now, I must admit that reading the post was a bit funny since it’s from the time before I was born 😀
Her book Return to Sender spans over three decades. Drew and Wes meet in 1986 when they are both thirteen, and the story follows them through adulthood and middle age.
I grew up in the 80’s and have such strong nostalgia for pop culture of that time. I especially love stories set during the 1980s. Here are some of my favorites.
Conjoined at the Soul by Huston Piner
Randy Clark is a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore in late 1979, and is coming to terms with his sexuality. The book opens with Randy admitting to himself that he is gay. As he navigates his new identity during a time when being gay was not accepted, he discovers things and people he once thought he has figured out are not what they seem.
I love books set in the 80’s and this is close enough that I squealed every time a favorite band or fashion from that time was mentioned. Randy comes across as endearingly naïve and clueless. His instincts about others’ motivations are way off the mark and he finds himself in less than favorable positions. He’s so insecure that he wobbles back on forth on his resolve about certain situations and people. He has a lot of growing up to do, especially when it comes to how to be in a relationship and how he should be treated.
The author does a fantastic job of fleshing out characters typical for the late 70’s. Although this is before the AIDS epidemic, the consensus of same sex relationships is that they are distasteful. Not only does the author address homophobia, he also addresses racism and antisemitism. Randy’s father is a racist through and through. He endlessly spouts off demeaning names for non-white and non-Christian people. Randy recognizes his dad’s awful behavior and, in a way, accepts that this is just the way it is.
If it were not for the seriousness of the hate that takes place in this book, Randy’s naivety would be sort of amusing. He can’t seem to understand why certain waitresses will not serve his table of friends that includes an interracial couple. And when they get kicked out of the restaurant by the owner, he is doubly shocked at the owner’s attitude. He is also not aware of how subtle he needs to be when showing affection to another boy at times.
A few things that surprised me about this book were the number of characters that are revealed to be gay and the lackadaisical way Randy shares intimacy with others, whether due to peer pressure or his own misguidance. However, I did appreciate the frank way the author dealt with them. The characters and their conflicts felt real.
Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton
Trailer Trash has to be one of the heaviest reads I’ve ever enjoyed. It’s raw and angsty and brutal. Sexton sugarcoats not one thing in her telling of a small, practically ghost town in 1980’s Wyoming, and high school students Nate and Cody. There is stark class divide between Nate, new to town after his parents’ divorce, and Cody, known about town as “trailer trash.”
Again, all the pop culture references from that time period–especially the music and movie references–delighted me. This story is so well written, I couldn’t put it down. The development of Cody and Nate’s relationship, the stigma of being poor and gay (Nate), and the challenges of being the new kid (Cody), were perfectly conveyed.
One topic that is virtually impossible to gloss over from that time period is AIDS. The fear, the misinformation, and the unknown of this disease, and the shame tied to being gay are addressed in such a way that a reader of any generation will get a perfect snapshot of the challenges Nate and Cody face.
Blink by Rick R. Reed
Rick R. Reed has this amazing talent for creating real characters experiencing true-to-life situations. In his afterword, Reed describes how Andy, one of these MCs, is loosely based on his real-life experiences, and that makes the story all the more compelling. Part of the story is set in the 1980’s, my favorite decade., and I appreciated the 80’s music and style references. Reed perfectly conveys the complexity of being gay and Catholic at that time through Andy. In sharp contrast is Carlos, an out and proud former seminary student. I enjoyed reading Andy and Carlos’ journey from missed connection to second chance. The story doesn’t focus so much on these two as a couple and in a relationship; rather, the focus is on each character’s growth and experiences as adults until their eventual reconnection. This allows the reader to get to know Andy and Carlos individually and not as two pieces of a whole. As we all know, life goes on, regardless of one’s attraction to another. Blink is a perfectly crafted story in that respect. Life, death, illness, divorce, and failed and successful relationships are not merely plot devices in this story, but events that feel genuine and natural to the telling of Andy and Carlos’ story.
Roberta Blablanski hails from The Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana. She draws inspiration from her colorful hometown and her former life as a college radio DJ. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days searching for the world’s best Bloody Mary and avoiding people she went to high school with. Her normal habitat is curled up in bed with a good book and a cup of coffee. Roberta developed a love of books at an early age, spending her summers at the library. Years later, after watching the American version of the television show Queer as Folk, she began searching for books featuring queer characters finding love. Most recently, she began writing queer love stories of her own, drawing from her own personal experiences and creating characters and story lines as vibrant as her ever-changing hair color.