Author: Paula Boock
Publisher: Longacre Press, Dunedin
My family lives in Christchurch. More than five years after the devastating 2011 earthquakes, our house has finally been given the green light to be demolished. This trip home is likely one of the last times I’ll stay in the house I’ve called home for almost 20 years. This means there is a lot of stuff to sort through to empty the house for the demo team. Part of this trip was sitting with my mother to go through our study, picking out the treasures that we couldn’t part with—the things that would stay with us to the new house and beyond. Photos, memories, books, trinkets, childhood artwork—this room is like a time capsule of mine and my families lives. During this search, I found a book I had forgotten about. Almost.
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Dare Truth or Promise is a book that will probably be familiar to many young New Zealand queer women. It was written in 1997 by Paula Boock, published in Dunedin, was shortlisted in the USA for a 2000 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT-themed fiction, and won the 1998 NZ Post Children’s Book of the Year Award. The book explores the growing relationship between two young girls, Louie and Willa, and provides an exemplary example of many queer tropes and classic characters, lines, and experiences. Willa is a free spirit with an accepting family, but has a dark past. Louie is a studious drama nerd, who never really liked kissing boys but definitely crushed on her drama teacher. They meet at an after-school job at a burger joint where Willa threatens the manhood (literally) of a creepy manager, impressing and intriguing the straight-laced Louie. From there, they share furtive glances, stolen kisses, nighttime explorations, and plenty of lingering hand holding.
The book definitely shows it’s age—no Snapchat streaks or Facebook stalking for Willa and Louie. Instead they hide in the library at school, talk on the (home) phone, and sneak into each others rooms at night. This book has so many classic and familiar elements, up to and including the quintessential staple of young queer relationships—the ‘sleepover’. This book is so familiar, because I lived much of what it describes: high school crushes, cute teachers, confused attractions, sneaking around, ‘sleepovers’ with my ‘friend’. This story is not shy about what it is and who it’s for.
This book was probably one of my first exposures to queer female relationships in youth literature—or any literature for that matter. In the late 1990s to early 2000s positive models of queer relationships were few and far between, and were definitely not aimed towards young people. While the narrative is simple and sweet, it provides a platform for a faction of society that is so often ignored or neglected. When queer storylines do exist they often focus on male relationships, and women’s sexuality (especially young women’s) is frequently minimised or suppressed. While Willa and Louie have trials and struggles in their relationship—again, classic tropes of homophobic parents, misguided friends, and problematic exes—their troubles aren’t unrealistic, and reflect many hurdles that young queer women often experience in their early relationships. The book also engages with consent and sex in a mature but understandable way, given it’s target audience. It is refreshing to see a book that doesn’t shy away from admitting that teenages have sex (and enjoy it!), and shows sex and consent in a normal, positive, healthy light.
Although Dare Truth or Promise is aimed at young adults, and is almost 20 years old, it’s still a wickedly cool story that a lot of queer people (especially queer women) will be able to relate to and see themselves reflected in. When you’re a part of a minority, that’s an experience that makes a book hard to ever forget.