Ciara Smyth triumphs in The Falling in Love Montage, which features 17-year-old Saoirse Clarke, who orchestrates an experiment to live out her own romantic-comedy fantasy amid a real world of uncertainty and heartbreak.
When Saoirse falls for cute, single Ruby, she decides she needs "a way of protecting myself from getting my heart splattered again." Saoirse insists that their newfound relationship resemble a classic romantic comedy montage, with only the fun parts and absolutely no serious conversations, sappiness or "we-ing, as in we love this, we are cat people, we are going to live happily ever after." But accompanying the Ferris wheel rides and flirty banter are Saoirse's deep personal secrets. She describes her life "like emotional dodgeball and I kept getting hit." Juxtaposed with Ruby, who is transparent about her own family struggles, Saoirse's pain is deep as she refuses to acknowledge her own demons out of fear her vulnerability will expose itself. Instead, she lashes out with quick wit and biting remarks.
Smyth's story focuses on a lesbian teenage relationship in which queerness is not a major plot point. Saoirse even notes, "Sometimes I forget that I'm a lesbian. As in I forget that it's statistically unusual and that some people have strong feelings about it." The result? A true-to-life protagonist secure in her marginalized sexual identity yet acutely aware of how her gay relationships may be negatively perceived by strangers. While Smyth deftly depicts the painful toll trauma can have on a child, she brings levity and balance to the narrative with hilarious rapid-fire exchanges and hijinks as the girls complete their rom-com bucket list. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, and co-creator, Gender Inclusive Classrooms