Let’s Explore… She Drives Me Crazy and the Sapphic High School Romance
Recently I finished reading She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen. My journey with this book is a surprisingly long one, as I first discovered it in early 2021, when I wrote a mock marketing proposal for the novel as part of my course work. For the project, I also put together a marketing mood board, inspired by the colours of the sunset lesbian pride flag. As I learned more about the book, its content and its context as a publication within lesbian and queer publishing, I became more eager to read it. As a big supporter of brick-and-mortar bookshops, I did not want to order the book online. As such, I spent the next year and a half browsing every bookshop I came across in search of She Drives Me Crazy, to no avail. Then one afternoon last December I went into my local Waterstones ten minutes before closing time, on the hunt for a nice book to “treat myself,” and there it was: a paperback copy of She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen.
In She Drives Me Crazy basketball player Scottie and captain of the cheerleading squad Irene, two high school nemeses, are forced to carpool to school together after Scottie wrecks Irene’s car. Scottie, heartbroken from a recent breakup with her ex-girlfriend and Irene, determined to secure a cheerleading scholarship, then concoct a fake-dating scheme that captures the attention of the entire school. This book was a lovely exploration of queerness and self-acceptance, with classic enemies-to-lovers and fake-dating tropes, and heart-warming depictions of supportive friendships and families. A fun and uplifting read, She Drives Me Crazy, is the epitome of a sapphic high school romance novel.
Sapphic high school romance storylines have become increasingly popular since the early 2000s – in film with stories like Hulu’s romcom Crush, on TV with couples such as Glee’s Santana and Brittany, and in literature in books like She Drives Me Crazy, Some Girls Do and Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating. The genre has a number of common tropes, including the enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating, cheerleading and sports themes featured in SDMC.
Naturally, enemies-to-lovers is a classic trope within Young Adult literature, utilised across genres. The trope allows for witty back-and-forths, suspense and turbulent emotions. Books like Rachel Hawkins’ Her Royal Highness, which places its main characters at a Scottish boarding school, showcase such a captivating journey from conflict to understanding.
The fake-dating trope, similarly, and often in combination with the enemies-to-lovers trope, prompts interesting storylines. The trope is a classic within romance films and books, including sapphic novels such as Adiba Jaigirdar’s Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, which follows two Bengali girls living in Ireland. Stories using the trope usually involve elaborate ruses and amusingly awkward situations, as two characters try to convince the people around them that they are romantically involved.
Furthermore, She Drives Me Crazy, like many other books within the YA sapphic romance genre, centres around cheerleading and sports. Perhaps sapphics’ love for the cheerleader trope can be traced back to classics such as the very cheesy but iconic 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader. In an article for Autostraddle, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya presents an interesting exploration of the “queerleader” trope in American television and film, and argues that the queer cheerleader figure confronts and challenges harmful stereotypes about cheerleaders and queer women and lesbians. The trope is also frequently utilised in sapphic books such as Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler, which sports a quarterback/cheerleader couple.
Lastly, sports are a common theme within the sapphic high school romance genre. The trope is featured in books like Jennifer Dugan’s Some Girls Do, in which pageant queen Ruby and track athlete Morgan start dating in secret. This YA novel and SDMC are just two examples of the popular sports trope in sapphic fiction, where the competitive element of the sport usually further contributes to tensions within the story through rivalries and pivotal games. As such, the trope can be utilised as an important story driver in sapphic books. And I think we can all agree that sports are just pretty gay – think track star Casey in Atypical, swimmer Emily in Pretty Little Liars and television show A League of Their Own. From an enemies-to-lovers theme to queer athletics, the sapphic high school romance has many classic tropes, drawing an increasingly larger audience.
Recent decades have seen a significant expansion of sapphic representation across genres, as new captivating books featuring queer women and lesbians are published every year. This positive development strongly contrasts with early popular sapphic media such as lesbian pulp fiction. This genre rose to popularity in the 1950s and included highly questionable titles like Satan Was a Lesbian. Lesbian pulp fiction was one of the first relatively mainstream representations of sapphic identities, that ironically simultaneously condemned lesbianism.
Conversely, contemporary social media platforms showcase an increasing variety of bisexual and lesbian books, and house growing sapphic BookTok and Bookstagram communities. Sapphic representation is also slowly reaching mainstream bookselling. A quick visit to Waterstones illustrates just that, with several sapphic titles being prominently featured in displays and on the shelves. In an article for The Bookseller in 2017, author Robin Talley noted that YA literature had seen an increase in queer representation since the early 2000s, with more and more LGTBQIA+ characters appearing in fiction published by mainstream and independent publishers alike. Six years later, the number of queer titles continues to grow, and sapphic literature is no exception to this development, as illustrated by this Reads Rainbow list of over 350 sapphic titles set to be released in the first half of 2023.
Within sapphic literature, the sapphic high school romance seems to have become particularly popular. Readers like myself find themselves drawn to the genre for a variety of reasons. Personally, I appreciate how these books allow me to vicariously live through sapphic characters, as they explore their identity and sexuality and have the queer high school experience I never had. Queer women and lesbians of all ages deserve the diverse, non-fetishised and joyful representation of queerness and sapphic identities that is offered by the expanding world of sapphic literature and media. The sapphic high school romance genre has grown to be one of my favourites in recent years, it is abundant in light and complex explorations of sexuality and gender, a delightful level of cheesiness and, well, the gays. An excellent example of its genre, She Drives Me Crazy has all of these elements, and more, and has already become one of my favourite reads of 2023.