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Karen’s Pick of the Week: Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly

Endpapers: a novel by Jennifer Savran Kelly may change your mind about the meaning of freedom in America. The setting of the novel is New York in 2003. Two years after the 9/11 attacks, the city is in political turmoil as America fights its War on Terrorism.  2003 is also the year the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Lawrence v. Texas case stating that the Texas state law criminalizing certain intimate sexual conduct between two consenting adults of the same sex is unconstitutional. 

The narrator of the novel, Dawn Levit, is an artist who works as a bookbinder.  She is struggling with her emotions and her relationships.  At times she wants to dress and act as a man, at others a woman, or a mix of the two.  Dawn is bisexual and genderqueer.  She feels out of place in common society and also in queer bars.  She lives in fear of showing the world who she really is.  When she and her friends are assaulted outside of a bar one night, her fears are legitimized.   

Jennifer Savran Kelly

Dawn believes it is more than coincidence when she finds a love letter, written on the cover of a lesbian pulp novel, hidden under the endpapers of a book she is repairing.  As she starts researching to find the author of the letter, she learns what it was like to be a lesbian in the 1950’s when gay sex was illegal.  She starts to find a new resolve to stop hiding, and begins to incorporate this, with the help of some graffiti artists, into her art.

Dawn is a well-developed, sympathetic character that draws the reader in.  Her growth in self-knowledge and courage is inspiring.  The plot moves at the perfect pace, it allows enough time to pause and reflect on the narrator’s feelings but continues on at a steady flow.  I would recommend Endpapers: a novel to readers who enjoyed Body Grammar by Jules Ohman or Sirens and Muses by Antonia Angress.

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