Julie Murphy solidified herself as a Big Time YA Author in 2015 when she released her second novel, Dumplin'. She snagged a coveted #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list and, more importantly, made an important point about beauty standards, body positivity, and girlhood in America. So you know I was excited when I heard she had a new young adult novel coming out in 2017. Bustle is proud to exclusively reveal the cover and an excerpt from Julie Murphy's new novel, Ramona Blue, out May 9, 2017 from Balzer + Bray.
Ramona Blue was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever. The out-and-proud lesbian — one of only two in her small Mississippi town — now lives in a trailer with her good-hearted but ineffectual father, her flaky mother, and her pregnant older sister, Hattie. She has big dreams — dreams she can't pursue because her family needs her to be responsible.
But then Ramona's childhood best friend, Freddie, returns, and their friendship picks up right where it left off. He introduces her to competitive swimming, and as she falls for her sport, she begins to fall for the boy, too. Now she has to decide: is knowing who she is more important than figuring out who she might become?
Bustle is proud to exclusively reveal the cover and an excerpt from #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy's forthcoming novel, Ramona Blue. See it and read it below:
Hugging Agnes may have made me feel tall, but nothing makes me feel as large as home sweet trailer. Like always, I duck my head to pass through the front door of our trailer and walk down the narrow hallway leading to Hattie’s bedroom and mine.
I began to outgrow this place somewhere around the summer before ninth grade. I’d always been tall, but that last growth spurt tipped me over from tall to too tall. The ceilings of our trailer stretch as high as seven feet, which means my six-foot-three frame requires that I duck through doorways and contort my body to fit beneath the showerhead in the bathroom.
Inside my room, I rest my bike against my dresser, and just as I’m about to flip on the lights, I notice a lump lying in my bed.
“Scoot over,” I whisper, tiptoeing across the floor.
Hattie, my older sister by two years, obliges, but barely. “Tyler is a furnace,” she mumbles.
I slide into bed behind her. Always the little sister, but forever the big spoon.
We used to fit so perfectly into this twin bed, because like Dad always said: the Leroux sisters were in the business of growing north to south, and never east to west. But that’s no longer the case. Hattie’s belly is swelling every day. I knew she was pregnant almost as soon as she did. I sensed it. So did Dad. We don’t waste time with secrets in our house.
Always the little sister, but forever the big spoon.
“Make him go home,” I tell her.
“Your feet are so cold,” she says as she presses her calves against my toes. “Tommy wants to know if you can come into work early.”
She turns to face me, her belly pressed to mine. It’s not big. Not yet. In fact, to anyone else it’s not even noticeable. But I know every bit of her so well that I can feel the difference there in her abdomen. Or maybe I just think I can. Wrapping an arm around me, she pulls me close to her and whispers, “I’m so sorry, Ramona.”
My lips tremble.
“Hey, now,” she says. “I know you can’t see this far ahead right now, but there will be other girls.”
I shake my head, tears staining the pillow we share. “It’s not like she died or something,” I say. “And we’re going to keep talking. Or at least she said she wanted to.”
“Grace was great, okay? I’m not saying she wasn’t.” Hattie isn’t Grace’s biggest fan—she never has trusted outsiders—but I appreciate her pretending. “But you’re gonna get out of here after graduation and meet tons of people and maybe figure out there are lots of great girls.”
Maybe a few months ago, Hattie would’ve been right. Up until recently, the two of us had plans to get out of Eulogy together after graduation. Not big college plans. But small plans to wait tables or maybe even work retail and create a new life all our own in a place like New Orleans or maybe even Texas. A place without the tiny little trailer we’ve called home for too long now.
But then Hattie went and got pregnant, and even though neither of us have said so out loud, I know those plans have changed.
Up until recently, the two of us had plans to get out of Eulogy together after graduation. Not big college plans. But small plans to wait tables or maybe even work retail and create a new life all our own in a place like New Orleans or maybe even Texas.
Tyler is here for now, but I can’t imagine he’s anything more than temporary. My plans were never extraordinary to begin with, and now that Hattie has my niece or my nephew incubating inside of her, they’re even less important. Hattie’s my sister. She’s my sister forever.
“And I can’t kick Tyler out, by the way,” she adds.
I shake my head. “Yeah, you can. Just tell him to go home.”
“This is sort of his home now.”
I prop myself up on my elbow and open my mouth, waiting for the words to pour out. But I’m too shocked. And horrified.
She loops a loose piece of hair behind my ear, trying to act like this is no big deal. “Dad said he could move in,” she whispers.
There are so many things I want to tell her in this moment. Our house is too small. Tyler is temporary. There will be even less room when the baby comes. I don’t need another body in this trailer to tell me that it’s too small and we’ve all outgrown this place. And yet I feel like I’m the only one of us who sees it. I’m the only one wondering where we go from here.
But with my legs dangling off the foot of my twin bed, I can’t help but feel that the problem is me. And that, somehow, I have outstayed my welcome here.
Internally, I am screaming, but on the exterior the only sign of life are the tears beading at the corners of my eyes. I have to change the subject. We can’t talk about this without fighting. “Is it dumb that I’m really upset about the Olympics being over, too?”
I can’t help but feel that the problem is me. And that, somehow, I have outstayed my welcome here.
She laughs. “It depends. Is that why you’re crying?”
“No . . . maybe a little bit.”
Hattie wraps her arms around me and pulls me to her like Mrs. Pearlman’s old Maine coon does with her kittens when they’re done feeding. It’s a momentary reminder that I’m the actual little sister. “I bet you could’ve been good enough for the Olympics if you’d ever even tried.”
“Shut up,” I tell her, fully aware that she’s being so nice to me because I’m a mess of a human being right now. I’ve always loved the Olympics. Most kids were obsessed with SpongeBob or Transformers or One Direction, but something about Team USA and the swim team in particular always felt magical to me. It was like every person on that team was the star of their own Cinderella story and the whole country was rooting for them to get the prince—or princess. In fact, sitting on my dresser is an old Michael Phelps Wheaties box with Missy Franklin’s face taped over his, because uteruses before duderuses, obviously.
“You’re the best swimmer I know, Ramona Blue.”
I roll my eyes, but my lids feel heavier than they did a moment ago. “You don’t even know any swimmers. You’re the best amateur hairdresser I know and I don’t see you styling the rich and famous anytime soon.”
“I’m just saying.” She yawns. “You don’t have a tiny human in your body. You can still be whatever the hell you want.”
I roll my eyes again and yawn back at her. I wish it were that simple. “I need to get some rest before our shift.”
I close my eyes, waiting for her breathing to deepen. I will always love Hattie for her undying faith in me, but even from a very young age, I knew what it meant to be the kind of person with the time and resources to be something like a swimmer or a gymnast or a freaking speed walker. (Yes, that is totally an Olympic sport.) My sport—the special skill I’ve developed my whole life—is surviving, and that doesn’t leave much room for following Cinderella dreams.
Images: Courtesy of Balzer and Bray, Christy Archibald