Jody considers herself a native New Yorker and believes herself to be fairly liberated. When she meets Lyle, a corn-fed boy from the Midwest, she realizes that not everyone is as open-minded as she is. The two of them begin a tentative relationship, though, and find themselves falling in love for the first time.
Norma Klein’s quiet, exploratory novel about first love and coming of age in the 1970s is extremely subtle. It’s quiet and often understated, and while the story’s protagonist is a smart, powerful girl in her own right, she’s not overtly so, and this often means that the reader might not recognize that what’s happening on the page is really important stuff. Klein was an innovative and important YA novelist for her time, and her sex-positive messages still resonate decades later.
Klein’s characters are vibrant and eccentric without being over-the-top. Jody, Lyle, and Jody’s mother are the three that stand out the most. Jody’s shrewd observations about the people around her propel the story forward, and her jaded outlook on love is believable. There is a tenderness between Jody and Lyle, and while their chemistry never combusted off the page, they still manage to portray a realistic first-love relationship. The point of Klein’s novel is not to wow readers with a flashy romance or seduction but to portray a sexual relationship between two teenagers as realistically as possible. Klein does just that.
Fans who grew up reading Judy Blume will find a kindred spirit in Klein’s work. Although she has a cult following, even after all these years, Klein has never achieved the kind of notoriety that Blume has, which is a shame, because Klein’s books are very, very good.
It’s O.K. If You Don’t Love Me by Norma Klein: Fawcett/Dial: 1978 (originally published). Purchased copy.