One True Way
Middle School Gets Even Harder
In 1977, Allie and her mother move from New Jersey to the South. Grieving over the death of her brother in a car accident and the separation and pending divorce of her parents, Allie is relieved when a popular girl, Sam, talks to her on her first day at Daniel Boone Middle School. Allie has a great interest in journalism, and through Sam's connections is given a chance to write for the school newspaper by Webb, the editor. She starts by writing an article about Sam, interviewing her basketball coach and going to her house to meet her family. Settling into their new community, Allie's librarian mother makes the acquaintance of a local female minister as well as Sam's coach... and her roommate. Allie feels that something is different about this relationship, but Sam won't tell her anything when she asks. As Allie continues to write articles, she spends more time with Webb, who has a crush on her. Oddly, Allie feels much happier when she is around Sam, and starts to realize that she has a crush on her friend. Knowing the problems that the coach is starting to face when her sexuality is under scrutiny, Allie is uncomfortable with this, but confides in the minister and her mother about her concerns. Sam is even more concerned, because her parents are very religious, and when she talked to her pastor, she was told that how she felt was a sin. While both girls struggle with their relationships and families, they are helped by concerned adults in their lives so that they can navigate through the social mores prevalent during this time period.
The thing that I liked best about the book was that it introduced sensitive issues without putting too many value judgements on them. The was especially evident with Sam's parents involvement in the church. While this attitude is shown as being hard on Sam, there is no outright condemnation of the church, and there is another minister who is portrayed sympathetically. The parents are amicable in their divorce, keeping Allie's well being first in their thoughts. The best bit of information Sam is given is that she needs to stay safe, which was critically important in 1977 when teachers could lose their jobs if the slightest inkling of homosexuality was revealed, but is still good advice to students today. Sam has an ally in her sister, but clearly would not be safe if she continued to bring the topic of her sexuality up with her parents.
The late 1970s were very different from the earlier part of the decade, and Hitchcock manages to accurately portray the social Zeitgeist while throwing in details like a boy wearing a silky shirt with sleeves rolled up and a comb in his back pocket with the handle sticking out. Yes! And I know, because, like Allie and Sam, I was a seventh grader in 1977!
One True Way is a great addition to diverse middle school collections. Add it to Barakiva's One Many Guy, Federle's Better Nate Than Ever, Sayre's Husky, Wittlinger's Saturdays with Hitchock, Gino's George, Hennessey's The Other Boy, Polonsky's Gracefully Grayson, and other books that show different experiences with sexual orientation and gender identity in a way that will make middle school readers more understanding of the challenges faced by the people in the world around them.