Alyson Derrick’s solo debut, “Forget Me Not,” is an upcoming sapphic young adult romance novel. The story follows two girls, Stevie and Nora, who’ve been planning to escape their conservative town after graduation and flee to California. By doing so, they would no longer have to keep their relationship a secret. But their dream for their future unravels when a tragic accident steals years of Stevie’s memory — including that of meeting and falling for Nora.
Every page of this book pulls at your heartstrings. “Forget Me Not” is romantic fiction as it’s meant to be — tender, devastating and hopeful. Derrick writes an intimate portrayal of small-town life through Stevie’s eyes, exploring the ways in which her identity as a biracial Korean-American lesbian isolatess her from her white, straight peers, even as she desperately tries to connect with them in the wake of her accident. Stevie makes herself smaller as she faces microaggressions from her friends and homophobic comments from her parents, drifting aimlessly in a life she doesn’t recognize but is forced to inhabit.
The revelation of Stevie’s sexuality is erased by her amnesia. Stevie finds herself dating and pursuing a boy, all because she’s been told she likes him, even if she doesn’t feel it. Through Stevie’s storyline, Derrick thoroughly examines compulsory heterosexuality, a reality for many lesbians which isn’t commonly depicted in fiction. That denial of her true self is heartbreaking to read because, as readers, we understand where it comes from. Learning the difference between who you are and who others want you to be is confusing for anyone coming of age, butespecially for queer kids. How could Stevie not assume she is straight when she’s being told it’s her only option? By trying to conform to the expectations of those around her, Stevie only unravels further, losing herself increasingly to fear, doubt and shame.
The novel brilliantly captures the experiences of living in a town that’s never felt like home to you because of your identity as a queer person of color. There is an impossible divide you can’t quite breach between you and everyone else. It’s other people’s careless words which linger even when you’re alone. It’s every chapter, every page Stevie spends in Wyatt, her hometown, surrounded by people but never truly being seen. The underlying message of “Forget Me Not” tells readers this: if you find yourself reflected in this book, you aren’t alone.
And it gets so much better.
While no issue in Stevie’s life is small, neither is the love that can be found in the pages in this novel. Even without her memory, Stevie is still inexplicably drawn to Nora. Their scenes together are a throughline in the novel, a breath of fresh air for readers from the grim reality of Stevie’s life. Home for Stevie isn’t a place — it’s a person. Nora is the girl she fell in love with once, and even if Stevie’s mind doesn’t recognize Nora, her heart does. The peace they’re able to find in each other isn’t one that exists anywhere else, because where they live it is so rare to find other queer people, other people with whom they can feel safe. Nora’s character is just as well-rounded as Stevie’s, with her own history, motivations, and life outside of Wyatt where she helps her family run their farm. A few of her unsent letters to Stevie after her accident, which are just as intimate as diary entries, are woven throughout the story to give Nora her own voice outside Stevie’s eyes — a writing choice that makes her feel even more real as a love interest and speaks to Derrick’s masterful narrative craft.
This novel shines its brightest whenever it brings Stevie and Nora together because, above all else, it’s about their journey back to each other. But while neither of them can change their pasts, the future is something they’re able to choose. Just as they’re unable to let go of each other, neither can they let go of the dreams they once had of a life outside the place they grew up in. Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is let hope guide us.