It’s Not Like I Knew Her

Girl Standing on Swing

Jodie Taylor’s childhood is filled with loss, abuse, chronic disappointment, and an instinctive awareness that her desire for women will forever make her an outcast. At 18, she flees her home town in rural north Florida and arrives in racially charged Selma, Alabama in 1956 as a penniless fugitive.  She finds work in a café that is frequented by racist night riders and, with an eye on the door, she hunkers down behind a wall of lies and half-truths. Her self-imposed silence with the family she left behind is broken when a crisis sets Jodie on a backward journey. As she struggles to reconcile her past with the present, she begins the inward journey she must take to truly find her home.

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INLIKH_small-promo_cover“Women I know very well. Like a southern version of Patience & Sarah. Deeply satisfying and emotionally resonant.” – Dorothy Allison, National Book Award Finalist, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Cave Dweller 

It’s Not Like I Knew Her is one of the most deeply felt novels I have read in a long time. Jodie Taylor is an unforgettable character. Her at times gut-wrenching journey of self-discovery and truth is a tale for the ages. Pat Spears is a rare writer. She peers into the heart of darkness and finds, of all things, redemption. Read this book.—.” —Connie May Fowler, author of How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly and Before Women had Wings

Jodie Taylor is growing up queer, poor and white in the rural south in the 1960’s.  She is also the headstrong and compelling protagonist in Pat Spear’s wonderful novel It’s Not Like I Knew Her. Spears doesn’t shy away from the realities of race, sexuality and class bigotry. But this gritty, complex, character- driven story is Jodie’s.  Rarely have I been so taken by a personality in a novel as I have been by the stubborn, broken generous Jodie Taylor. Spears knows how to dress the working poor. She wraps their flesh and blood bodies in work and lets them build their own worlds from all the strength and frailty that is human. Jodie refuses to succumb to a series of bad breaks and bad choices. She holds fiercely to her dream of a world where she can love women, return to the challenges of her troubled past, and play basketball hard and fast enough to win the game and make a living. All the characters in this book are engaging, but Jodie especially seems so real I feel like I knew her.”  ―Sally Bellerose, author of The Girls Club

From Midwest Book Review –
A Review by Amanda Silva

Pat Spears’ Novel Offers Readers a Real Opportunity:

Jodie Taylor, the protagonist of Pat Spears’ artfully rendered novel, It’s Not Like I Knew Her, is the definition of hard-wired pluck and moxie, the personification of strength when it is most challenged by humanity’s weaknesses.
Though Jodie is a complex character, so very human in her intentions and failings, rooting for her comes as easily as reading the visually rich and thoughtful prose that Spears expertly unravels. For some writers, description, particularly when capturing place, results in phrases as two-dimensional as the letters from which they are built. However, Spears crafts three-dimensional settings, tangible landscapes and locations that hum in the reader’s ears while delighting the mind’s eye.
To say that Jodie’s story is one of resilience oversimplifies a compelling plotline. Jodie is a woman hell-bent on creating her place in the world, all the while aware that staking her claim requires learning where she can risk a moment to thrive when even the most innocent indiscretion could ruin her.
Despite the novel’s thematic gravity, which includes discrimination and alienation based on sexual orientation, gender, race, and poverty, Jodie has a sharp, sometimes irreverent tone that punctuates the tension in just the right places. The dialogue is effective throughout and Jodie’s is a voice that I would at once recognize and delight in hearing again.
Ultimately, It’s Not Like I Knew Her, delivers an unexpected and surprising gift. At first blush, the title might suggest the impossibility of ever really knowing anyone or even the futility in trying. But by the novel’s end, the title reveals itself as an invitation to realize that we don’t know beyond what our own lenses allow us to see. If we understand this, we might magnify those lenses, recognize ourselves in strangers, and perhaps finally know each other.”

What I’m reading: Growing up gay in 1960s-era Florida – Tricia Booker

Remember the tv series NYPD Blue, and the episode in which Dennis Franz shows his butt? I loved that show. Twenty-one years ago, when Hot Firefighter Husband (who was then just Editor Husband) wanted us to move to north Florida from Minnesota, this place was still so backwards obtuse birdbrained that the show had been banned here. It was almost a deal-breaker.

Go back even further in your time machine, and imagine being gay while growing up deep in the bowels of the Sunshine State. Or imagine jumping off the Tallahatchie River bridge every day of your childhood; I’m guessing both scenarios would be equally frightening and painful.

We don’t immediately know the sexual preferences of Jodie Taylor, the character in Pat Spears’ latest novel; we first meet her as she steps through the door of her Florida childhood home, slapped by the lingering scent of an old man dying. The man, Red Dozier, may have tried to be a father to her, but she’ll never forget – or forgive – how he left Jodie and her mother when they needed him most.

But there’s more to this story than a young woman learning to forgive. Soon, we’re brought back to the first place Jodie truly called home – a small ramshackle building she shared with her mother in Eufaula, Alabama. It’s where she spent long afternoons with her best friend, Ginger, and inherently understood they shared a loving bond that others would find repulsive.

It’s Not Like I Knew Her, Spears’ second novel, tells Jodie’s story with a calm sensitivity which draws us in like the scent of a blooming gardenia, and the result is a fascinating, absorbing tale of archaic Deep South traditions, heartbreaking intolerance, and the unlikely yet persistent proof that good people can always be found.

Jodie spends her early years in Alabama with her mother, Jewel, an aspiring country singer with a penchant for bad men and drunken nights. But Jewel’s negligent habits teach her daughter to fend for herself and, more importantly, that she can’t even count on the people she loves most. After Jewel takes off with a traveling band, Jodie lives first with her bewildered and straight-laced aunt and then with her father Red Dozier, whose wife resents her very existence. The minute she graduates from high school, she leaves.

But seeking freedom from the constrictions of her past inevitably provokes more questions than answers. She had run away from a town where she thought no one understood her. As she travels around 1960s-era Alabama and Florida, she realizes she barely understands herself.  Along the way, she stumbles through the racism and bigotry those decades helped define – and she often finds herself the target of such intolerance.

The book’s themes are particularly pertinent now, with gender politics threatening again to bitterly divide people. What Jodie learns and later helps others to understand is that people are people, some good and some bad. It might be my favorite aspect of the book – Jodie’s realization that not everyone who knows her secret will resent her for it.

Pat Spears grew up in north Florida, and the proof is in the details. In her capable literary hands, the humid heat feels hotter, the creek water seems cooler, and the RC colas are infinitely more refreshing. Her first novel, Dream Chaser, told the story of a cowboy trying to raise three kids on his own after his wife left. It’s a book with grit and dirt on every page, and stars a young girl working so hard to be grown up it hurt my heart to read. It’s Not Like I Knew Her carries the same depth of emotion, and the dust of north Florida feels just as real; but this story – my goodness – it’s transporting. It’s not just a coming-of-age tale –  it’s more like one young woman’s journey to find out where she belongs. What she discovers is that she belongs where she wants to be, and where the people she loves still love her back – not despite who she is, but because of it. Through Spears, Jodie doesn’t so much figure out she’s gay – she knew she was different since forever – rather, she learns how to really live being gay, and how to fit into a world she once thought beyond her reach. It’s a lesson worth learning again and again.

Meet Jodie Taylor:

“Jodie Taylor has not had a happy life. Her childhood was one of loss, abuse and disappointment and she is aware that because she prefers women to men sexually, she knows that she will never be fully accepted. When she was eighteen years old, she ran away from her home in Florida and made it to Selma, Alabama where the best she could do was become a waitress in a place known for its racial injustice. The small café where she works is a place where racism is seen in the clientele and her life becomes one of falsehoods and half-truths. She really never thought about reconciliation with her family so she never thought she would ever see them again, but then she is called home and this forces her into dealing with the past and facing the present. What Jodie really wants is a home and the definition of that word takes on real meaning as she tries to find it. Her journey thus becomes mental as much as it is physical.

I love that author Pat Spears chooses a white character who has to deal with racism that was directed at others. Being raised in a poor family and unable to get a good job reflects the class consciousness that is so evident in the southern United States and Spears incorporates that theme as well as the themes of the aforementioned racism and class consciousness along with sexuality into her novel. Jodie is a good person and she is a complex character. Her stubbornness and her generosity to others seem to be at odds with each other but they are simply different aspects of her personality. As her character emerges, we begin to identify with her and cheer her on. I felt that she became part of me as the novel progressed. Jodie will not allow herself to sink into depression because of the bad choices and the unfortunate events in her life. She has a dream that she has no intention of giving up. She not only wants to be accepted by others and she knows that if she can achieve that, she can also accept herself fully. She is determined to work hard for this and she has the gall to fight for it.

Spears has the wonderful ability to describe people, places and events so well that we feel we know them. While the character of Jodie won me over immediately, it is the prose that built her that kept me reading.

This is a book about resilience, humanity and learning how to achieve what at first seems to be impossible. Jodie learns when is the proper time to go after what she wants. Her irreverence helps to paint a picture of who she is as well as inject a bit of humor into her story. There is so much that I have not shared here but that is because I do not want to spoil anyone’s reading pleasure. I urge everyone to meet Jodie. I am sure that you will grow to love her as I have.”  ― Amos Lassen, Reviews By Amos Lassen