Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The world (and the Internet) is full of unexplained phenomena. From ghosts to telekinesis, people are enthralled in and hold onto mysteries and the unexplainable as a way of instilling order onto their lives. Plus, that stuff is just kind of cool. Montgomery Sole, the witty, stubborn and relatable protagonist of Mariko Tamaki’s new novel Saving Montgomery Sole, embraces the mysterious in her search to instill order on her chaotic life.
Montgomery’s life isn’t easy. She faces bullying from popular kids like Matt Truit and Madison Marlow. She feels threatened by the Reverend White, a preacher trying to “save” the American family by denouncing what he sees as sin-including LGBTQPIA+ people like Montgomery’s friend Thomas and her moms. Montgomery’s only source of relief is the Mystery Club, where she discusses the strange and unexplained with her friends Thomas and Naoki. But when Montgomery buys the Eye of Know online, the possible power of the mysterious stone to hurt Montgomery’s memory threatens her relationship with herself, her closest friends and her family.
Montgomery’s character is the star of this quirky and excellently voiced contemporary novel. I found her worries about her family and her frustrations with the world around her to be relatable, although her character wasn’t always likable or easy to fully understand. Her voice shone through the pages, though, and I felt each of her nuanced feelings along with her on her journey.
Naoki was another gem of a character in this book, one that stole every scene in which she appeared. Her eccentric outfits and her blasé attitude about life were intriguing, and I found myself craving more of her. Montgomery’s other friend, Thomas, didn’t work as well for me. In some ways, he felt more like a caricature than a person and he fell into some stereotypes of gay boys that were humorous, but also made me feel uncomfortable. Also, the scenes with grad school dropout Tiffany were hard for me to get through and didn’t move the plot forward in the way they felt like they should. However, characters like Kenneth White, the Reverend White’s son, provided unexpected twists of character that balanced out these flaws.
While the teenage characters were hit or miss, I especially loved the representation of Montgomery’s family and the love of her moms Momma Jo and Mama Kate. I haven’t found many books that include gay parents and I was delighted to see the care with which Tamaki rendered this one. Their family dinners and Montgomery’s tense relationship with her tween sister Tesla were some of the best scenes in this novel. The scenes about Mama Kate and her difficult relationship with her religious parents were difficult to read, but insightful. Overall, the family scenes in this book comprised a full emotional spectrum and were one of the main highlights of this book for me.
But perhaps the biggest strength of this book was the tremendous amount of heart it had. As a character driven novel with a slower plot and many loose ends at the end, the emotional capacity of this novel kept it afloat and made it work. Montgomery stumbles, but she stumbles towards love and her misadventures and conflicts with the world around her ultimately draws her into a place of peace, kindness and understanding.
The vivid setting and descriptive language was another strength of this novel. The thread of mysteries and unexplained phenomena was also another intriguing aspect of this novel that worked well. Overall, Saving Montgomery Sole is a fantastic story of self-discovery with twists on conventional LGBTQPIA+ themes and a dash of mystery.
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