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Spring Fire by Vin Packer

Spring Fire by Vin Packer is probably not a novel that you've heard of before, regardless of its 1952 release and its over 1.5 million sold copies. How did you miss it? You missed it, because it was the first - the classic – lesbian paperback book to be openly published.

The story is simple: a young girl named Susan Mitchell "Mitch" joins a sorority, where there is a lot of social pressure to be at the beck and call of the fraternity members, and to act exceedingly feminine at all times. Amid her uncomfortable interactions with said fraternity boys – who try to take advantage of her – and with some of her more prissy sorority sisters – who found her too masculine, too ugly, and only accepted her for her family's money – Mitch finds solace in the company of her free-spirited roommate, Lena. Eventually, the two find more than just emotional support in their relationship; they have intimate relations on many levels, including the ones unthinkable in the 1950s (and unfortunately for some people in 2018). Therefore, the draw of the scandal somehow coexisted with the low-key distribution that kept it off readers' radars. After kickstarting an entire genre of lesbian novels, and spending a consequential 40 years out of print, the revolutionary novel has reemerged in the era of the LGBTQ+ quest for openness, rights, and pride.

The written story itself is nothing particularly astounding and the plot and characters are not incredibly distinctive (aside from the lesbian orientation), but it is a quick read that is well worth the time for its place in literary and social history. For better perspective of Vin Packer's journey in publishing Spring Fire, sections of her introduction (written when the book was republished in 2004) follow:

… I said, "I'd like to write about boarding school. I went because I had heard homosexuality ran rampant in places like that. I wanted to find out if my suspicions were right, that I was one of those. Sure enough, I was rewarded with first love."

"A little love story with a twist, hmmm?"

"Yes, but not a happy ending. I didn't think I was strong enough to go through all the secrecy and disapproval. Her mother found one of my letters to her and called my parents threatening to call the police if I ever contacted her daughter again."

"What happened next?" Dick asked.

"My parents told me, and I told myself, that it was just a silly schoolgirl thing. All I needed to do was put myself in a male/female environment. So I chose the University of Missouri, co-ed, and with a fine journalism school, since I wanted to be a writer."…

… "You might have a good story there," Dick said, "but you'd have to do two things. The girls would have to be in college, not boarding school. And, you cannot make homosexuality attractive. No happy ending."

"Well, my story didn't have a happy ending, anyway."

"But your main character can't decide that she's not strong enough to live that life," Dick said, "She has to reject it knowing that it's wrong... I don't care about anybody's sexual preference. But, I do care about making this new line successful."

"In other words, my heroine must decide that she's really not queer."

"That's it. And the one she's involved with is sick or crazy."…

I highly encourage anyone who picks up this book to read through the entire introduction before taking on the fiction, because it really does layer the socio-political, literary, and personal dilemmas that helped to create an entire genre, and ultimately encouraged entire groups of people to be comfortable with themselves and their natural tendencies in any aspect of life. As both a slice of literary history and a story about a girl learning about becoming comfortable in her own skin, Spring Fire is so important to remember and is so inspiring to read.

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