Ode to My First Car
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Published June 20, 2023
About Ode to My First Car
By the critically praised author of A Million Quiet Revolutions , this YA contemporary sapphic romance told in verse is about a bisexual teen girl who falls in and out of love over the course of one fateful summer.
It’s a few months before senior year and Claire Kemp, a closeted bisexual, is finally starting to admit she might be falling in love with her best friend, Sophia, who she’s known since they were four.
Trying to pay off the fine from the crash that totals Lars, her beloved car, Claire takes a job at the local nursing home up the street from her house. There she meets Lena, an eighty-eight-year-old lesbian woman who tells her stories about what it was like growing up gay in the 1950s and ’60s.
As Claire spends more time with Lena and grows more confident of her identity, another girl, Pen, comes into the picture, and Claire is caught between two loves–one familiar and well-worn, the other new and untested.
Last year I read A MILLION QUIET REVOLUTIONS, which is also a novel in verse by Robin Gow. I really enjoyed the epistolary format in which the story is written. ODE TO MY FIRST CAR also has an epistolary feel to it since every poem is addressed to Claire’s first car, which she wrecks just before the story begins.
It felt really easy to understand Claire’s feelings and needs. Even though I didn’t always agree with her, I still totally understood where she was coming from and what led her to conclude certain things. I also really liked her brother and the relationship that develops between them.
Her relationship with Lena was really great, too. I feel like I have seen a lot more stories featuring mentorship lately, whether that comes in the form of a teen having a mentoring relationship with an adult, or a teen having a mentor relationship with an older teen. It’s a cool element to see in books, and those are often some of my favorite relationships. I liked that Lena isn’t a grouchy old lady (though I love the stories about those, too!). She’s a little bit closed up, and obviously has some wounds in her past, but I loved the gentleness in her approach to Claire and in the way Claire kept showing up for her, even though Lena didn’t want to intrude into her life.
All in all, I think I might like this one even better than A MILLION QUIET REVOLUTIONS, but I think they’re both really well done.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Claire is bisexual, but her family doesn’t know. Her best friend Sophie is transgender. Other characters are queer as well.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.
Kissing between two girls. Two girls talk about wanting to have sex and challenge each other to have sex that summer. In one scene, two girls make out in the car, and Claire reports they also have sex (off-scene).
Claire is supposed to go to Mass with her family but hasn’t been going. After her car is wrecked, she has to ride with them to church, but she doesn’t enjoy it or feel connected to it in any spiritual way.
Brief descriptions of a car accident. References to homophobic or biphobic comments. One peripheral relationship has a lot of flags for toxic/abusive behavior. Claire doesn’t witness any of that happening, but she hears about it and is worried/unsure of what to do.
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