Swearing Off Stars
The history many of us know is one replete with heterosexual men. While they have been the main political force in the Western world, the fact that so much of history and historical fiction focuses on them can make history books seem rather one-note. Where, some of us ask, are the women? Where are the people of color? Where are the LGBT people?
Fortunately, some of the people asking these questions are writers. Even more fortunately, they often write books to fill in those gaps in history.
Amelia Cole, often called Lia, is an American student attending Oxford for a year, but she finds herself quite overwhelmed. On her first day, she cannot manage to find the building where her first class is, and when she does track down the right building, she learns that there were not enough students enrolled in the class and it has been cancelled. She will instead be taking an economics course, one which she did not expect and did not bother to prepare for. On her way to the economics course, her bag slips off her shoulder, spilling everything across the ground. However, in the middle of disaster, she meets Scarlett Daniels, an aspiring actress and one of the most beautiful women Lia has ever met.
Scarlett’s aspirations aren’t solely related to the stage. She is part of a small movement whose intent is to ensure women are allowed to attain degrees at Oxford. In 1919, women were allowed to attend classes and sit for exams, but they are not truly equal to the male students. The movement is looked down on, as the movement for suffrage had been for years before, but they persist. Scarlett draws Lia into the movement, just as she draws Lia into a passionate affair.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a book where a naïve young woman is brought in over her head by a lesbian who knows exactly what she is doing. If anything, the dynamic is the opposite. Once the two women begin their relationship, Lia is the one who is determined to hold onto it while Scarlett is hesitant, certain it will destroy the two of them if anyone finds out. When Lia returns to America after her year at Oxford, the two of them drift apart only to rediscover each other decades later.
Swearing Off Stars is easily one of the most beautiful books I have read. It is joyful, heart-wrenching, and defiant in the face of any opposition to telling the stories of women like Lia and Scarlett. I would recommend this book to any woman, whether part of the LGBT community or not, who wants a reminder that we do have a place in history.
She Writes Press
Danielle M. Wong