Music From Another World
Published March 31, 2020
About Music From Another World
It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.
Sharon Hawkins bonds with Tammy over punk music and carefully shared secrets, and soon their letters become the one place she can be honest. The rest of her life in San Francisco is full of lies. The kind she tells for others–like helping her gay brother hide the truth from their mom–and the kind she tells herself. But as antigay fervor in America reaches a frightening new pitch, Sharon and Tammy must rely on their long-distance friendship to discover their deeply personal truths, what they’ll stand for…and who they’ll rise against.
A master of award-winning queer historical fiction, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley once again brings to life with heart and vivid detail an emotionally captivating story about the lives of two teen girls living in an age when just being yourself was an incredible act of bravery.
So by now you probably know I LOVE books about music, and I have a particular soft spot for punk. I also found myself drawn to the historical aspect of MUSIC FROM ANOTHER WORLD, too, as I’m not familiar with very much of what happened in the 1970s.
The story is told entirely in diary entries and letters that Tammy and Sharon write to each other. In the diary entries, they often report things they aren’t ready to tell each other, or things that happen to both of them together. I liked the format and felt like it made things really personal. I felt like I could watch their friendship grow and its affect on their diary entries and feelings of isolation.
Both Tammy and Sharon belong to conservative Christian schools and communities and wrestle with feeling like they don’t belong. Tammy believes if she ever tells the truth about who she is (that she’s gay), she’ll be cast out of her family and community. Sharon worries for the same about her brother, who’s also gay.
This story hit me pretty hard. I grew up in a conservative Christian community (and still live in the town where I grew up), and I’ve wondered before about what it would be like to come out to that group of people. I think there would have been talk of conversion therapy, not by my parents, but by some of their friends and church members. My parents wouldn’t have stopped speaking to me or kicked me out. That’s just not how they operate. But it would have cost me most (if not all) of the contact I had with my faith community, and that would have been really painful and difficult.
I grew up with a girl who came out to her parents and lost her relationships with them. They haven’t spoken to her in years. They didn’t even try to contact her after the Pulse shooting to see if she was okay, and I can’t even imagine how hurtful that is.
Anyway, I guess reading this book, not only did I connect with Tammy and Sharon and everything they went through, I guess I pictured the faces of my friends, and it made me think about what it was like– even 20 years later than this book takes place– to grow up in a conservative church and be gay.
I really enjoyed the book, both for the emotional journeys that it brought me on and for the really fun punk scene (Midge Spelling is my favorite!).
Check out the Q&A with Robin Talley after the content notes!
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Multiple characters are gay.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly frequently.
Kissing between boy and girl, references to making out. Reference to oral sex. Kissing between same sex couples.
Both Tammy and Sharon are part of conservative Christian churches which believe that being gay is a sin. They come across as dogmatic, angry, and manipulative. One church leader gets caught in an affair and embezzling money from a charity.
Some references to fights during punk shows.
Teens drinking alcohol.
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Q&A with Author Robin Talley
Q: What is your favorite thing about Tammy or Sharon?
A: I love the close connection between Sharon and her brother, Peter. That was another element of the story that came to me very early and was crucial in how I envisioned the characters’ lives. They’re siblings and best friends who know exactly how to get on each other’s nerves when they want to, but when it comes down to it, they’ll do absolutely anything for each other.
Q: Are there any parts of Tammy and Sharon’s lives that reflect your own?
A: Their lives are pretty different from mine — for one thing, I wasn’t born yet when their story takes place, and I’ve always lived on the East Coast. I did grow up in a more right-wing community than I live in now, though, and I was part of a pretty conservative church community there. Though my church wasn’t politically active, thank goodness.
Q: How did you come up with the letters to Harvey?
A: From the beginning, my very first kernel of the idea that led to this book was the image of Tammy in her church basement, writing a secret letter to Harvey Milk while around her, everyone she knew was celebrating the victory of Christian singer and TV commercial star Anita Bryant’s campaign to overturn a gay rights law in Miami. I imagined Tammy surrounded by people, but still completely isolated, and reaching out to the only person she’d ever heard of who she thought might be able to understand how she felt. At that time, Harvey was getting a lot of media attention nationwide as one of the most outspoken gay rights activists (he also served as a convenient bogeyman for anti-gay right-wing activists).
Q: What inspired you to write in the Harvey Milk era?
A: The history of activism for LGBTQ equality has always been a big interest of mine. Before Music From Another World I’d written two books that both focused on queer characters living in the 1950s, when being a member of that community meant, almost by default, being closeted. I wanted to explore a later era when, for the first time, some LGBTQ people began to see coming out as a real option — but an option with consequences that could be catastrophic. The late 1970s was also when the anti-gay community first started to emerge as a major political player, so that was interesting to explore as well.
Q: What was the most difficult part of the story to write, and why did you feel it was important to include that part?
A: I had a lot of trouble writing some of the things that happen to Tammy near the story’s midpoint (trying to be vague here to avoid spoilers). I hate to ever write about the characters that I care about experiencing anything negative, but the reality of the situation required it. The stakes Tammy faced were simply too high.
Q: How do you balance the intensity of the time period and subject with the love story?
A: That’s just the thing — we’re all living our lives against the backdrop of history, one way or another. We’re living through an incredibly turbulent time in the world right now, just like Sharon and Tammy were in the late 1970s, but people are still going to school, fighting with their parents, getting their first jobs, etc. And, yes, falling in love. For all of us, just like for these characters, we have to figure out how the minutiae of day to day life (and sometimes the drama of it) fits in with the bigger picture, and not lose sight of the contributions we make to the larger world, too.
Q: What is one thing you hope readers take away from MUSIC FROM ANOTHER WORLD?
A: I hope they’ll go on to read more on their own about the events that followed the end of this story. There were a ton of both highs and lows in the movement for LGBTQ rights, and although this story focuses largely on 1978’s Proposition 6 in California, also known as the Briggs Initiative, that was just one campaign out of a much larger movement, and it was the larger movement that laid the foundation for events that we’re still seeing play out today.