File this one in the “WHY HAVE I NEVER READ THIS BEFORE” category. Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle is not a new book. It was published in 2004, when I was a senior in high school. You’ve probably seen it at your local bookstore or library. I’ve seen it around for years, but I think I was always put off by the cutesy-looking hearts on the cover. I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but while Bermudez does feature a few romances, it’s more about three best friends than anything else.
Oh, and did I mention it features a lesbian romance without being a cliche? With depth and nuance, even? It was swoonworthy, much moreso than the hetero romance was.
Nina, Mel, and Avery are the three best friends who form the Bermudez Triangle (named after Nina Bermudez). They’ve been inseparable since childhood, but the summer before their senior year of high school, things start to go awry. Nina goes to Stanford for a pre-college summer program, where she meets Steve, the boy of her dreams. Mel and Avery are a little lost without Nina, having never been away from each other for so long, and their relationship turns into more than friendship. Mel has known that she was gay for a while, but she’s never told anyone before. Avery has always been into guys, but one night she starts to see Mel differently and finds that she’s attracted to her. The trouble starts when Nina comes home and Mel and Avery can’t figure out how to tell her that they’re together now. Meanwhile, Nina’s new boyfriend Steve is all the way across the country and she struggles to keep up their long-term relationship.
But the Mel/Avery relationship is really the star of this book. Mel is not your “typical” lesbian – she has long red hair and favors skirts and girly tank tops. Avery fancies herself something of a rocker – she’s in a band and is the loud one who’s always cracking jokes. The scenes where Mel and Avery have kissed for the first time and are getting to know each other in a different context are wonderful. Butterflies in my tummy, I swear. But they’re still afraid of anyone finding out about them, because they don’t want to come out to their parents or get harassed by the kids at school. And while Mel is okay with calling herself a lesbian and calling Avery her girlfriend, Ave refuses to identify as gay, as a lesbian, or as bi. She’s afraid of being put in a box and being expected to act a certain way. She’s also still attracted to guys – the only girl she’s attracted to is Mel. She doesn’t know what to think about her own sexuality or her own identity. This drives a wedge between her and Mel, because Mel is in love. Mel is ready for a serious relationship, a public relationship.
I just love that, as queer characters, Mel and Avery aren’t put in a box. They’re whole characters, who happen to be gay or queer. They have most of the same problems as the straight characters: dating problems, parent problems, where-do-I-want-to-go-college problems. Except Mel and Avery’s problems also include coming out to their parents and being called “dykes” at school and work. But I love that all of these things are included, and I think it’s a pretty honest portrayal of the different ways teens deal with their sexuality. Nina also has to deal with accepting that her friends are queer. She thinks of herself as accepting and open to homosexuality, but she’s never been faced with it on a personal level. She wonders if it makes her a homophobe when she’s initially freaked out by the idea of Mel and Avery being together, although what she’s really freaked out by is her two best friends having something special, something she can’t be a part of.
On a side note, I loved that Mel and Avery waited tables at a cheesy theme restaurant. As a fellow service worker, I love characters dealing with asshole customers and asshole bosses. It soothes me, what can I say?
And now I know why this book is so highly-regarded among YA lit. I recommend The Bermudez Triangle to everyone: gay, lesbian, straight, or anything else. You will connect with at least one of the main characters, but probably all of them. I only regret that it took me so long to get around to reading it!