Dress Codes For Small Towns, by Courtney Stevens
In many ways, this book serves as a sort of wish fulfillment for rural progressives who long for a way that Christians can prove themselves disloyal to unpopular biblical morality and celebrate the transgressive sinners among them. I’m not someone who is very supportive of this particular goal, but I have to at least respect the chutvah of someone who was a youth pastor whose awareness of the obligations of godly morality is so limited as to allow her to write a book like this one where most (if not all) of the focus is on a singularly unappealing main character, one pastor’s daughter Elizabeth McCaffrey. It is beyond the scope of a short book review like this one to point out all the ways that she is unappealing, but her willful destruction of her father’s hopes at being able to stay pastor of his hometown church, as well as other aspects of willful destruction, her own complete absence of biblical morality or recognition of its claims, and her general total irresponsibility and lack of self-awareness all contribute to make this book really tiresome, since we are forced to read this book through the eyes of someone who deserves a great deal more punishment than she actually receives.
Coming in at a bit more than 300 pages, this book is rather tedious Lambda bait. Elizabeth McCaffrey is continually coming up with lame epitaphs for her supposed gravestone that relate to her overly unstable emotional life. She is part of a group of friends that is known as the Hexagon, which gets themselves into trouble and which has a generally hostile attitude to authority and morality. They are part of a small town which is seemingly obsessed over a Corn Doll competition which awards usually a middle-aged woman and which appears to be the main ambition of the females of this particular small town. Of course, there is a ton of small-town gossip and the author portrays Christians (including Elizabeth’s father) as massive hypocrites and also tries to make it seem like not such a big problem that Elizabeth and so many other local youths are out of control. Naturally, because most people who write novels actively hate rural life, the small town is one that the young people all want to escape when they go to college where they can finally be free, even if the author seems to present many people as squares who are seemingly content and able to be fit into a box, all leading to a faux glorious happy ending that is totally undeserved, and certainly not a morally good ending.
A big problem with this book is one of framing. The author tries to engage the sympathies of the author in the debate the protagonist has about being just friends with her best friends, who she has romantic feelings for and who appears to have romantic feelings for her as well. Given that the group of friends talks about sex all the time and makes fun of Elizabeth being a bit butch, most of the sexual drama that makes up the vast majority of this book is really pointless. In writing this YA book, the author panders to the desires of teenagers to be free of restrictions without showing any sort of adult wisdom that those restrictions are in the best interests of children in most cases in a wide variety of ways. That sort of writing is not only frustrating because Elizabeth is not nearly as appealing as the author seems to think, but because it only encourages rebelliousness and a lack of respect among a population that needs a great deal of instruction in respect and obedience to God and to others. This book, all too appropriately, could have used a great deal more in the way of codes of conduct for small towns and everywhere else that were fairly but strictly enforced.