Title: Rufus & Syd
Author Name & Publisher: Robin Lippincott & Julia Watts (Harmony Ink)
Publication Date & Length: May 5, 2016 — 204 Pages
The world is big and changing, but Vermillion, Georgia, like so many small towns, exists in a time warp. Rufus—a fifteen-year-old budding painter with flame-red hair—is so pale and skinny that one of his nicknames is “Matchstick.” He is also gay and a synesthete, with right-wing Christian parents. Syd—spiky-haired, smart-mouthed, and tired of having to act like a parent to her own mother—isn’t sure what she’s into, except for old movies, black eyeliner, and black coffee.
When Rufus and Syd find one another, they start finding themselves too, with the unlikely help of two Vermillion natives—Josephine, an old bohemian, who for many years ran a repertory cinema in Chicago with her late husband, and Cole, a middle-aged gay man suffering from brain damage due to the horrific hate crime perpetrated against him in his youth.
When the pressures of small-town life in the Bible Belt begin to build, Rufus and Syd, proud atheists, need the strength they’ve found together to survive.
I love the unlikely friendships Syd and Rufus forge with the other outsiders in their small town and I love their passionate plans to “get out” of the same small town. Syd and Rufus’ judgemental observations of their hometown are uncomfortably accurate and beautifully written.
As a fellow escapee from the Bible Belt, this book resonated as truthful, honest and hopeful. I wish I’d had access to writing like this as a teen and I hope it offers hope of a more vibrant future to small town misfits everywhere.
But this isn’t an inspiring Hallmark Channel movie. These kids are sarcastic, irreverent and delightfully flawed. At their worst, Syd and Rufus are bitchy and judgmental. And while this story offers hope, it refrains from happily-ever-afters. I loved it and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Robin’s latest book is BLUE TERRITORY: A MEDITATION ON THE LIFE AND ART OF JOAN MITCHELL. His collaboration with Julia Watts, RUFUS + SYD, a novel for young adults, will be published in spring 2016. Robin is also the author of the novels IN THE MEANTIME, OUR ARCADIA, and MR. DALLOWAY, as well as the short story collection, THE ‘I’ REJECTED. Robin’s fiction has received nominations for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Pushcart Prize, the American Library Association Roundtable Award, the Independent Book Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. For ten years he reviewed mostly art and photography books for “The New York Times Book Review.” His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in over thirty journals, including “The Paris Review,” “Fence,” “Bloom,” “American Short Fiction,” “Memorious,” “The Literary Review,” “Provincetown Arts,” “The Louisville Review,” and “The Bloomsbury Review,” and his fiction has been anthologized in M2M: NEW LITERARY FICTION, REBEL YELL, and REBEL YELL 2. He has held many fellowships at Yaddo, as well as a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony. Though born and raised in the south, he has lived in the Boston area for many years. He teaches in the low residency MFA Program at Spalding University.
Julia Watts, like her character Syd, is a small-town southeastern Kentucky girl. Unlike Syd, however, Julia grew up with a pair of great, supportive parents who helped her believe in herself even when she felt like she didn’t belong. Writing has always been Julia’s favorite thing, with reading as a close second, which is which is why she writes and buys books at an alarming rate. She is the author of numerous novels for both young adults and “old adults,” including the YA novels Finding H.F., which won the 2002 Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category, and Secret City, which was a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist and Golden Crown Literary Award winner. Julia holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, where she worked with Robin Lippincott, and an MA in English from the University of Louisville. She teaches at South College at in Murray State University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her family, four cats, and one spoiled pug.
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