At the start of Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge, we learn about Natalie's vow of celibacy. She then embarks on a journey to share with readers what happened leading up to her vow. This takes us all the way back to her teenage years as she processes what went wrong in her relationships. Interspersed with her memories, we see her growth in the present day and eventually where she's headed.
This is not a romance. It's a genuinely bisexual-themed book with a whole lot of other underlying messages about body and sex positivity. Natalie and Anastaze, her best friend, are at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. Natalie has enjoyed a long history of enthusiastic, mostly satisfying sex, despite her own inner turmoil and her feelings about her worth as a plus-size woman. Anastaze has no experience at all by virtue of never having found someone she wants to share that level of intimacy with. What's so wonderful about them, both as friends and as women, is that there is no shame for either of them.
Their friendship, more than Natalie's weight or relationships or sexuality, is the cornerstone of the novel. Every woman deserves a Natalie or an Anastaze in her life, someone who will stand beside her and support her but isn't afraid to call her out when necessary. I love these two, and it's their bond which kept me reading.
There's a lot of great symbolism built into the story. It's easy to read it as a series of events or as a treatise on fat acceptance, but that would be selling it short. A significant amount of time is devoted to Anastaze's work as an anonymous blogger and her own "coming out" by revealing her identity. Meanwhile, Natalie is participating in a plus-size fashion show which leads her career in a new direction. She has to overcome significant emotional barriers in order to put herself out there for the world to see. Anyone who has ever felt the need to hide in the shadows will be able to relate to both women's insecurities and their process toward self-advocacy.
Natalie's bisexuality is a significant part of the story, but it isn't what drives the plot. She has no trouble understanding and accepting that part of herself. It's her own fears and insecurities about being good enough for anyone to love which she has to overcome, not her sexuality.
All in all, this is a wonderful read. Even after finishing, it took me time to process what I loved about it and why I think this is an important work of contemporary bisexual literature. I'm looking forward to reading more from Erin Judge in the future.
For a fabulous bisexual protagonist, a well-written friendship, and a story which kept me hooked, this gets 5 stars.