Rough Patch, by Nicole Markotic
There are strengths and weaknesses in focusing a novel like this one on a quirky and somewhat socially awkward teenager who happens to be somewhat obsessed with her bisexuality and its repercussions and who also happens to be a moderately talented Canadian figure skater. To an unfortunate degree, Keira is a very Nathanish sort of figure, endearing in her quirkiness, capable of devastating wit but disinclined to defend herself, struggling mightily with relationships as well as communication with others, and highly self-critical, to the point where she is frequently considering herself to be an idjit because of her struggles to express herself and achieve her complex aims. As a Nathanish person myself who shares many of the quirks and communication difficulties of the heroine, I am certainly inclined to be sympathetic to her. Yet the fact that the character is somewhat clueless herself makes the novelist unable to provide a great deal of knowledge and insight from others, since she is surrounded by other people who are just as clueless as she is. The result is that while this is certainly not a bad novel, and I would happily read more about Keira should the author write more about her in the future, this is just not a book that I could wholeheartedly enjoy even on its own modest terms.
The plot of this book is admittedly a bit threadbare. We begin the story at the end of summer vacation where both Keira and her best friend Sita have had their first kisses, and where Keira is a bit reluctant to explain her first crush on an older girl who worked at the camp as well as the guy who kissed her, Serge. Throughout the course of the first part of the school year, the sophomore friends deal with communication struggles, Sita’s boy-crazy ways, and the bullying that they face from older boys, including Keira’s older brother Tyler. While Keira is able to start a shy relationship with the quirky Jayne, the relationship is kept private because both Jayne and Keira are in the closet. Naturally, though, the book aims at the titular rough patch of the climax where Keira finds herself kissed by Serge in an unwelcome fashion before outing herself by declaring love to Jayne and then being violently stabbed by Jayne’s brother, which ends her career as a figure skater because of the damage done to her leg in the course of the stabbing. The author proves herself unable to really handle the climax of the story, and that detracts considerably from the achievement of the novel.
This book is a very short novel aimed at the YA bisexual audience, and it is little surprise that the aspect of sexuality is a problematic one here. It is problematic in large part because the novelist herself does not wish or is not able to grasp the multiple layers of the problem. Keira (and presumably the author) blame much of her timidity when it comes to relationships on the fact that she is a closeted bisexual young woman, but there is certainly possibility that Keira is in fact a biromantic demisexual who needs some sort of emotional attachment to feel comfortable with physical affection, as she tends to resist pushing for intimacy with either boys or girls and tends to be someone whose longings are intense but whose ability to act on those longings is rather frustrated. Unfortunately, while this book talks a lot about sexuality as it relates to gay politics, about which it has some insightful things to say, the author does not talk at all about the asexual spectrum and how that could influence Keira’s romanticism. Of particular insight is the way that Keira fears being seen as a bisexual because she thinks that it will lead to rejection both from straights and from gays, demonstrating at least some of the divides within the LGBQT+ alliance in a pointed way.