The Gifted Ones by Lisa Vaughn is the story of a young woman, raised in a conservative, Catholic family, far from the bright lights and excitement of the big city.
Lisa's story starts at age 13, when she finds herself falling in love with Selina, a 'cool' girl from the wrong side of the tracks. More soul-mates than lovers, their relationship starts out as that of two friends, with a closeness bordering on obsession, before escalating after a chance kiss. They make a wonderful couple (not in an after-school-special kind of way, but a real, warm, human kind of way), so much so that their struggles against parents, teachers, and society somewhat blinds us to the lack of intimacy between them. At first, their age explains a lot, but Lisa herself admits later that she was a selfish lover, never doing much to explore or please her girlfriend.
The bulk of the book covers about six years in their relationship, a tumultuous time filled with curfews, betrayals, parental discovery, alcohol, drugs, first jobs, first jealousies, and first tastes of freedom. Although we know enough about the girls to realise that Selina has the harder home life, it's Lisa's struggles with which we identify the strongest. It often seems as if everyone and everything is against her, until her commitment to Selina becomes as much a statement of defiance as it does an expression of love. You want to hold her and protect her, even as you want to stand back and cheer her on.
With the story written in the first-person, narrated by Lisa herself, there's a lot of foreshadowing of darker times ahead. As a result, by the time Lisa and Selina reach their two crisis points (one a matter of perceived cheating, the other a matter of real cheating), we're almost resigned to the inevitable. Their break-up is sad, and it's difficult, and it's a chapter we wish we could skip . . . but the way in which Lisa deals with it has a lot to say about what truly matters in life.
Lisa writes with a no nonsense, honest style, but she also knows how to tell a story. The words truly flow off the page, pulling you into the centre of the drama, and holding your hand the whole way through. If the book falters a bit in the last few chapters, it's only because she has stepped outside of reliving the romance, and is instead summarizing the last few decades of her life. It's interesting to see where that life took her after Selina, and even if her second soul-mate isn't quite what we'd expect, you cannot begrudge her the chance at a more mature kind of happiness.
A tale of adolescent love and discovery that just happens to focus on two girls, this is a memoir that's definitely worth a read.