Bi Bookshelf: Speak Its Name by Kathleen Jowitt

Book review: “Speak Its Name” by Kathleen Jowitt ( Currently £5.90 for Kindle on Amazon: here.

There are a fair few romances out there in which characters are guided by their faith to resolve issues relating to love, and a good number of stories in which LGBT characters move on from the faith of their childhood to a belief system that is more accepting.

There are also plenty of non-fiction books whose aim is resolving conflicting issues of faith and sexuality, and I dare say a reasonable number aimed at people in mixed-faith relationships. However, there seems to be a gap in the market when it comes to LGBT romance that addresses issues of faith, particularly with regard to stories set in the current century (not to disrespect several well-loved authors whose historical characters have both faith and a healthy attitude towards their own sexuality). Having said all that, then, it’s quite surprising that this book sat on my shelf for nearly a year before the author sent me a gentle prompt asking if anyone I knew could review it. Which I unhesitatingly did, resulting in much joy.

Lydia is returning to Stancester’s highly regarded university for a second year, having secured a place in the halls of residence, rather than in a shared house with her friends, by virtue of her appointment as a Hall Officer for the Christian Fellowship. She is tasked with mentoring any Christian students in residence and encouraging others to join the fold. Like many communities, Stancester University includes several different Christian denominations, which have organised themselves into a smaller number of Societies, affiliated to the Students’ Union, and with not-entirely-intelligible names. Although most of these Societies have overlapping memberships and organise group activities together, the Christian Fellowship tends to hold itself apart from – and thinks itself above – the others.

Lydia’s first act of rebellion comes when she decides to take part in an inter-Society overnight Vigil – against the advice of the other Hall Officers and committee members – and is paired with Colette, a Methodist living in a mostly-Christian shared house, as providers of food for all those taking part. Lydia tries to suppress her attraction to Colette, who is unashamedly bisexual, but finds herself spending more and more time at Colette’s house following the Vigil. Meanwhile ructions have broken out in the Students’ Union and the Societies, after an outspoken student has challenged whether the Christian Fellowship is being entirely honest in its name, or if it would be better renamed as the Evangelical Christian Fellowship. The other committee members insist Lydia helps with their campaign to keep the name with which they started the year, and she finds herself drawn into the complex political situation in spite of other matters needing to take priority in her thoughts.

This really was a fabulous book. Lydia’s friends come in all varieties of faiths – and none – and exhibit a wide range of attitudes to their own sexuality as well as that of others. Lydia’s family, too, show a host of different attitudes towards their collectively taught beliefs, and most surprise her with their attitudes when she finally tells them where her affections lie. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever been involved in student or local politics, has sat on a committee or has even the vaguest passing interest in how other faiths and denominations work in the 21st Century – including me: I’ve never got the hang of the various factions within the Anglican Church, never mind all the others. I hope we don’t have too long to wait for another novel from this author.

Stevie Carroll
Review previously posted on The Good, the Bad and the Unread (