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by Julia Watts
Alyson Publications, 2001
Review by Toby Emert, Ph.D. on May 7th 2004

Finding H. F.

In Morgan, Kentucky, a town the size of a quarter, Heavenly Faith (H.F.) Simms, the young lesbian narrator in Julia Watts' award-winning novel, Finding H.F., lives with her church-going "Memaw" and attends the local public high school.  H.F.'s best friend, Beauregard (Bo, for short), plays the punching bag role for the football team because he is the token school "fag."  The new girl in school, Wendy, has just moved with her parents to Morgan from Pennsylvania, where her father was a university professor.  When H.F. falls hard for Wendy, with her long, curly red hair, she is surprised that they strike up an easy friendship.

As the girls' friendship slips over the line into a budding sexual relationship, Wendy pulls away, leaving H.F. confused and full of questions.  Still stinging from Wendy's rejection, H.F. also discovers that her grandmother has lied to her about knowing where her estranged mother lives.  Determined to discover more about her identity, H.F. convinces Bo to accompany her on a road trip to Florida to find and meet her mother, whom she's never known.  She romanticizes the idea of their first contact and rationalizes the lies she has to tell to get her grandmother's permission to leave Morgan for a few days.

The trip evolves into a provocative journey of discovery.  Stopping in Atlanta, H.F. and Bo meet lesbian street kids and end up in a Metropolitan Community Church service, awe-struck that there are churches for queer congregants.  In Florida, they do find Sondra, H.F.'s mother, but the reunion is not at all what either of the teenagers had imagined.  Broke and disheartened, they head home, but not without their first naked dip in the Atlantic Ocean--an experience that cleanses them both figuratively and literally. 

Watts' H.F. is a delightful character: wise, but wide-eyed; open to the world, though easily stung; loyal in her friendships, but unafraid to speak her mind.  Her Southern-ness--both her dialect and her thinking--is more than a little appealing.  As readers, we understand Watt's witty teenaged heroine.  We want H.F. to find what she's looking for--her place in a confusing world.  We're rooting for her to do just that as she begins to accept truths about herself and as she works out her own brand of spiritual faith and her own definition of a loving family.  

 

 © 2004 Toby Emert

 

 

 

Toby Emert is currently an assistant professor of English and English Education at Kennesaw State University, near Atlanta. He has also worked as a freelance journalist, a classroom teacher, a counselor, and a director in offices, classrooms, and on stages in several major US cities.