Genre: Contemporary Romance/YA Fiction
Spoiler alert: there is nothing more tedious than the “bury your gays” trope. This a term that has been in constant use by media and literary critics for the last century. Unfortunately, “bury your gays” means exactly what it sounds like: LGBTQ+ characters are often killed off in film, television and novels. This tactic was originally used by producers so that they could write queer characters while still maintaining that their work was not “promoting the gay agenda” because, well, the LGBTQ+ characters died within the story. If you look at modern media, there are hardly any queer, living role models for the youth of today to look up to. Everyone knows the feeling of looking up to that big silver screen and not being able to see their own reflection. This can happen on any level whether it be their culture, race, sexuality, religion, gender identity, disability, or even body type.
Surprisingly, "The Stars and The Blackness Between Them" was extremely inclusive. The two protagonists (Mabel and Audre) are both queer black women with an affinity for spiritualism. The book begins with an event that may be triggering for some. Audre lives in Trinidad with her hyper-religious and religiously strict mother. When Audre falls for a girl at her mother’s church (Neri) and they begin to see one another in secret, chaos unfolds. Audre’s mother catches them being intimate and immediately sends Audre to live with her father in the United States. This leads Audre to rekindling her childhood friendship with Mabel.
One thing this book did wonderfully was showing the two-sided coin of coming out. Whereas Audre was beaten and ostracized for loving a woman, Mabel was raised in an open-minded household; one in which she fights with her father over his use of the proper neutral pronouns for the lead singer of Mabel’s favorite band. Of course, this is not to say that those who use “they/them” pronouns are not completely valid. This is simply a comparison between someone who is able to educate their parents in the ever-expanding identities and terminologies of the LGBTQ+ community and someone who can’t even kiss another girl without condemnation.
For the first few chapters, there is a lot of this dichotomy. Audre wants to know what her life should be like. Should she try to return to Trinidad? What happened to Neri once her grandparents shipped her off to Tobago? What were these new feelings she was having for Mabel? Tragically, just as Mabel and Audre are beginning to explore this budding romance, Mabel is diagnosed with cancer. She has one year to live. There it is, the trope in which LGBTQ+ characters don’t get the same happy endings that straight, cisgender couples do.
This story’s sudden turn for the worse made me wonder why. Why would a queer black author write about the death of a queer black girl? Junauda Petrus lives with her wife and has presumably gotten her fairytale ending, so why can’t Mabel? Through the lyrical, mystical and transcontinental journeys of Audre and Mabel did I get my answer: life is what you make of it, so make it a love story. As her health rapidly declines, Mabel reads a book that her father recommended. This book is what gives her hope. It was written by a man who was incarcerated for allegedly murdering his best friend. The man (Afua) was sentenced to death. Mabel takes his anguish to heart and even writes him a letter. She then decides to use her “last wish” to free him from the Prison Industrial Complex.
Much like “bury your gays," the school-to-prison pipeline is the theory that slavery was merely extended by the prison system in the United States. This means that children of color are victims of intergenerational poverty and miseducation and are therefore unable to move up socially within legal parameters. I know that this is a greatly debated argument and I am not taking a stance either way. All I am saying is that a dying girl saw a dying man and tried to give him freedom. Sadly, Mabel’s wish cannot be granted. Instead, she gets to spend one day at an amusement park with Afua. They liberate themselves from the physical world by leaning into the unknown of the afterlife.
This book has several ideologies, theories and philosophies. Some of them are familiar, others are not. Personally, I don’t know much about Trinidadian culture. I don’t know about herbal remedies or using dreams to heal oneself. But I am always willing to learn and I think that is what this author really wanted. Learn about the nation you live in, learn about the society you exist in, learn about the practices you participate in. It’s terrible that there is such a lack of minoritized individuals in media. It’s terrible that, in my reading of this, I had to once more, “bury my gays." But I hope that the love came through regardless. I hope that, whether Mabel or Afua died, the respect and admiration that they held for each other, for their loved ones, is what stays with the reader. No, this isn’t a cute love story, but it is a love story just the same.