Sixteen-year-old Bianca Torre identifies as a socially awkward lesbian until she realizes there is more to her identity. Not a risk taker, Bianca knows a lot about hiding. In fact, she hides her sexuality, her personality, and often herself as she peers in on the lives of others using her birdwatching telescope.
When Bianca sees her neighbor, Steven Lebedev, another recluse from across the way, get murdered, no one believes her except her best friend, Anderson Coleman. The two live near one another in North Hollywood and decide to solve the murder of Mr. Conspiracy, which is how they best remember him. As they unravel the clues of Feathergate and Bianca receives multiple threats, they are joined in their sleuthing by Elaine Yee, a fellow bird watcher who is “a sweet and intelligent badass” (21).
While Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything by Justine Pucella Winans is indeed a murder mystery, it is also a novel about identity exploration. Readers discover, for instance, that despite having a list of over sixty fears and casual stalker tendencies, Bianca is brave, compassionate, and persistent. The sleuthing trio hope to figure out the cult and escape with their lives.
From Winans’ book, a clear moral emerges: “Don’t get so absorbed in your fear that you let it prevent you from being yourself” (359). From that truth emerges its companion: We all make mistakes and feel pain and regret. The trick is to remember that those experiences shape us and provide proof that we have actually lived.
On the identity level, from Bianca and Elaine’s experiences readers will learn that there is no right and wrong way to have a specific identity. Some labels will resonate with us, but settling on a term and/or pronouns doesn’t have to mean leaving a major part of the self behind. Sometimes we suppress and ignore parts of our true selves because we are afraid of how someone else might react. As a result, we lie as a form of self-protection. According to Winans, “the goal shouldn’t be to need everyone to know. It should be to find people you can really let in” (283). The important thing is to embrace who we are and to know ourselves, even if others are oblivious. Maybe it’s enough for the people who matter to know.
- Posted by Donna