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Book Review: 'Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' by Jeanette Winterson

BooksKristina PinoComment

After reading this blog post by Jen Campbell wherein she mentions several titles she's enjoyed lately, I became curious about one called Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, a book that sounds like it might be self-help but is really an autobiographical novel by author Jeanette Winterson, who also wrote Oranges. Jen had also been tweeting a whole lot while she read the book, warning against reading it in public lest you shed a few tears and get piteous glances from folks around you who don't have the slightest idea what the book is about.

Oranges is about a girl, also named Jeanette, who is adopted and destined to be a missionary. She leads an extremely sheltered and religious life until she gets a little older and has to deal with learning about the world, and herself. It's a great coming of age story, albeit a bit tragic to read about the hardships Jeanette went through coming out as preferring women over men, including her church's response of exorcising her of the demon that made her that way.

The book is listed as fiction, but I've surmised it's based on Jeanette's real life experiences, which are published in Why Be Happy..?. Now that I've read Oranges, I'm intensely interested in reading what the author had to go through compared with what she put her fictional character through, and how she personally coped with it.

I'm not necessarily religious or atheist, just somewhere in between, and I don't really take these books as a commentary on the subject (which they are not). They're not about lesbian issues, either. Instead, they're about the people and their own problems, and how they project them on others, and how they overcome their problems and follow their hearts. In the case of Jeanette in Oranges, her mother is completely and utterly devoted to God (comically so), so much so that she missed things in her daughter like a deaf spell, or never accepted her sexual orientation (and disowning her instead). Jeanette leaves home, a brave thing at 16, and takes on the world.

Being written by an author from England, I admittedly had to read Oranges with a dictionary handy. What's more, the story takes place in the 60s, taking us even further back in unfamiliar times and words. Though these things might be a put-off for some, I enjoyed the experience and, despite the heavy themes the book is actually quite funny and clever. I recommend it to you folks who like those "follow your heart" stories and lovers of introspection.

(buy Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit on Amazon)