The Golden Season by Madeline Kay Sneed opens with a poetic description of summer in West Texas that made me wish I could teleport there to experience every sensory detail fully.
Emmy is a college student who is about to start her senior year. She seems to have everything going for her in the eyes of her small West Texas town. Her father is a revered coach on the local football team, she has the support and love of the entire town, she’s a part of the right college sorority, and she’s a good Southern Baptist woman who will surely marry and good man. But Emmy is a lesbian and plans to tell her parents before returning to college for her senior year.
It doesn’t go well. Emmy’s mother shuts her out and tells her she is going to hell. Emmy’s father also preaches of sin and hellfire but is further motivated to protect his own reputation and career as a football coach and local celebrity. So when Emmy returns to college and is introduced to a cute openly queer grad student, she throws everything she has into the relationship.
The Golden Season is not a coming-out story; it’s a story of the reckoning between love and values. Emmy coming out is not the focus but the inciting action that sets up the rest of the character-driven plot, which was really refreshing. Emmy is already sure of who she is when the book opens. Instead, it’s everyone around Emmy who is unsure.
Emmy’s parents struggle to reconcile their religion with their love for their queer child. They each take a different path, believing they are doing what is best for Emmy. Meanwhile, Emmy experiences her first relationship with a woman, Cameron. Cameron tries her best to love Emmy too, but her own baggage prevents her from fully appreciating all of Emmy.
Ironically, Emmy’s father, Steven, and Cameron are in many ways the same. Steven is so focused on the correct ways of being a Christian and a Texan that he pushes his daughter away in a misguided attempt to protect her. He thinks he is doing it for God, for love, and for the chance to win a Texas state championship as the head football coach. Cameron is a strong-willed east coaster who often intentionally offends people — even when it hurts Emmy. She thinks Emmy should be willing to cut off her family and Texas roots completely. Ultimately, both want Emmy to be someone she can’t be and, as Emmy rightfully points out, “comfort can’t be given without empathy.” Both force Emmy to question what she is willing to sacrifice to live her truth.
The religious theme first drew me to the book, because I relate to it, and at times it made the story cathartic to read. But it could also be heavy and potentially triggering to those with Christian religious trauma. Occasionally, the characters quote from Bible passages, especially in the chapters told from Steve’s perspective. Steve’s chapters also contain a decent amount of football practice and games. Most of the time, the author does a good job making the football less about the game, which I don’t understand, and more about what is going on with the characters. Still, football could be a little much if it’s not something you like or understand.
The writing is gorgeous and filled with beautiful imagery and insightful quotes, which was my favorite part of the book. It often reads like a love letter to Texas, even when it’s critical. I gained a better understanding of what it’s like to be from West Texas and maybe learned to be slightly less like Cameron in her view of Texas.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted, easy summer read, this isn’t it. But if you’re interested in a thought-provoking story with beautiful prose, a character-driven plot, and people that hurt each other despite their best, good-Christian intentions, then I recommend The Golden Season.
The Golden Season by Madeline Kay Sneed is out now. Catch up on LGTBQ+ book releases in the Autostraddle Literature section.