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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Elizabeth Stark's debut novel Shy Girl is not for shy readers. Stark dazzles us with honesty. A confident lesbian body-piercer who lives deep in the middle of San Francisco's lesbian culture, Stark's main character — Alta Corral — will inspire all readers with her relentless pursuit of truth. Shy Girl is an archaeological dig into our own backyards. It's the story of how childhood shapes us and what happens when we forget, dismiss, or ignore the foundations that support our adult lives. Shy Girl also is an unusual tale about falling in love with the girl next door.
Alta falls in love with Sasha, whom she dubs Shy Girl underneath the sprinklers when they are kids. They're both girls, and that leads to more problems for Shy along the way than for Alta. Alta gets that she's different. When the two become teens, Alta learns to tolerate the boys that come asking her for advice about how to woo Shy. Late at night, after Shy's boyfriends drop her off at the front door, Shy goes next door to Alta's house or Alta creeps into Shy's house. While their mothers try hard to shrug off the closeness growing between Alta and Sasha, the two teens explore. They explore their bodies, their souls, their lives. It becomes love, yet everyone but Alta wishes it weren't so. Shy's straight... at least on the outside — what does this magnetic pull toward Alta mean for her?
Too confused and too scared to figure things out, Shy bolts for Seattle, leaving both Alta and her mother devastated in loss. Here is where Stark's evocative novel twists gently toward the past whilealsoreaching for the future. Shy Girl is about an intense friendship between two girls. It's also the story of their mothers, of how silence and intolerance shape us, and of both the quiet and bold ways we come to accept the truth that lives within us.
The years pass. Shy never returns. Alta discovers acceptance and happiness in the heart of San Francisco. There, her difference is celebrated. She blossoms into a motorcycle-riding, tough-minded dyke with uncanny luck with the girls. Alta dallies with these admirers, but she never forgets Shy. It's as if Shy is with her always.
It takes her mother's stroke and imminent death for Shy to return. Actually, it takes Alta's careful coaxing. Shy, it turns out, is cranky and pregnant — and always hates to be reminded about her mother. She didn't leave the Bay Area just because of Alta. She left to escape her mother, who always was odd and obsessive in the way she hovered over Shy. Alta, on the other hand, feels much fondness and gratitude toward Shy's mother. After Shy fled to Seattle, the two bonded in their grief, and Shy's mother offered Alta a kindness she'll never, ever forget.
At this lonely woman's deathbed, Alta and Shy awkwardly begin to tell one another the secrets that have kept them apart all of these years. In the process, the two young women uncover other secrets — deeper, older ones that their mothers kept. When these long-hidden truths are revealed, everything changes between the two.
Obviously, Shy Girl is a novel for mature readers. However, teens on the verge of their own adulthood will appreciate the way author Elizabeth Stark explores powerful, passionate, ambiguous relationships. Alta Corral is a breath of fresh air, too — a brave role model, a young woman who learns (finally!) how to live and love honestly.
Stark offers teens another gift when she, without moralizing, reveals a sad truth about youth. Often, when we're young, we squander people and opportunities in our lives, and, of course, those decisions come back to haunt us later. Because of the masterful way Stark weaves readers from the present, into the past, and then out into future possibilities in her characters' lives, we're able to feel the impact of decisions made long ago in their lives. We're able to see the moments that change them forever. Freedom comes by facing the truth about our lives — our mistakes, triumphs, and the tangled stuff in between. Shy Girl is more than a love story. It's a tale about patience and acceptance.