I am a 30-year-old straight black male. Despite the fact that its antagonists are elderly queer black women, Bingo Love’s innate propensity for expressing the pure power of love was enough to stir some very hefty emotion. The book effortlessly implements inclusion and diversity on several levels and takes point on the front of queerness in black women. Bingo Love follows the story of Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray whose romance begins in 1963 when they find themselves in class together.
One of the first things I notice is how the story quickly tackles issues that usually stand in natural opposition to queer relationships. Church is the first. Each family’s grounding here expresses without reservation, the conflict with queer love vs. the tradition and values of most Christian families. It also throws a few realities about how human church folk can be (such as with the married deacon) which was a nice touch. This rift, and the pressures of their families is eventually what drives the two young women apart.
This causes the book to take a turn that gives the readers insight into how powerful heteronormative forces can be when it comes to people who find themselves in love regardless of their gender. It hits heavily on bisexuality as well as fluid sexuality, and it makes sure that the reader understands a key major point- “Love is love is love is love.” In the case of Hazel and Mari, their love so strong a thing that it spans over the course of several decades.
Everything in this book is adorable. There is cuteness at every turn, and you can’t help but to feel the love that the women have for one another. It’s everything that you want out of a love story in that respect. Despite not usually choosing romance as a first choice for reading, I found it to be rich in this story, enough so that I smile in the moments that Hazel and Mari share together, which is often. However, that’s also where I find a slight issue with the storytelling.
Stories thrive on conflict, and undoubtedly, we get a great deal of it here, dealing with families who are unaccepting of the protagonist’s queer love, but it all feels very predictable. The importance of the story is the focus on the struggles with queer love at different points of time in society, and that goal is accomplished, but you see it all coming. Everything happens almost exactly as I expected. The story I thought I’d get when I picked it up is about 95% what I got, and some of the development seems rushed. We do get a connection to the characters and their relationship, but it felt like more tangible scenes could have further strengthened that. Story is just as important as theme.
Thematically, Bingo Love hits all the cues that it’s supposed to, even if in a “I saw it coming” manner. Sometimes just enjoying and letting those cues resonate with you is what can really matter. I found that even with my reservations about actual storytelling and content, this still held my interest. There is, however, a nice little surprise in the story that I won’t spoil here. It’s worth it.
The book hits more than just queer representation. We hit strides with queerness, age, race, color (darkness of skin tone), sex, disability, and body (Hazel’s pretty plumpness) – some things of which I’d be willing to bet would not have been so closely recognized if the writer hadn’t been a disabled, queer woman of color herself. Representation both on and off the page is what matters, even when it doesn’t represent me directly. It’s the human experience and exploration of other’s perspectives that matter.
Had I not yet mentioned the art in this story yet? It’s phenomenal. I noted earlier that everything in this book was cute. Jenn St-Onge is a major reason as to why it’s so cute. She has a way of making every character adorable somehow no matter their age or emotional state. She is superb when it comes to the art of storytelling through expression. Everyone matches the context of the given situation with a notable nuance. The panel to panel action and utilization of page real estate makes the pacing easy to handle throughout the story as well. Joy San’s colors compliment the art well. There is a simplicity and softness to her style that still brightens every page.
I think stories like this need to be told. The fact that there are so few out there like this makes Bingo Love a story that sits at a unique intersection. Representation like this matters, not only for the people who live these lives but for people like me who seek to gain perspective into these kinds of situations. The storytelling is a slight hang up for me, but really, it’s the theme and the representation that allows this book hold its ground, and I truly enjoyed that.