The Ada Decades

Written by Paula Martinac
Review by B. J. Sedlock

The “interconnected stories” on the book’s cover blurb made me a bit dismayed, because I prefer the novel format to short stories. But I quickly got caught up in the decades-long story arc of the romance of Ada Shook (school librarian) and Cam Lively (teacher), who meet during the turbulent beginnings of school integration in 1957 Charlotte, North Carolina. They become more than friends once Cam introduces Ada to her gay circle, and Ada realizes the repressed schoolgirl crushes in her past have developed into something more.

The stories depict different aspects of historical LGBTQ life. Ada and Cam become roommates by 1960, when Ada accompanies Cam home for Christmas. They are assigned separate bedrooms, and Cam’s father talks of plans to send her to a doctor to “cure” her. Gay friends who are outed against their will have their lives ruined. The women deal with book censorship and bomb threats during school busing conflicts in the 1970s. They attend a gay pride parade in New York in 1982 and enjoy the freedom of not having to hide their relationship. Yet even in the 1990s, when Ada’s father has a heart attack, Ada feels she must keep Cam away from the hospital to protect themselves.

There are no sex scenes beyond an interrupted clinch or two. Some important events take place offstage and are not revealed till later. Yet Martinac’s style made me feel that less is more, that leaving some parts out made the story more powerful. Cam and Ada are well-drawn characters, easy to identify with. This novel will make readers appreciate the difficulties today’s gay and lesbian senior citizens had to go through when they were young. Strongly recommended.