The Thing about Florida: Exploring a Misunderstood State by Tyler Gillespie

People could say almost anything about the state, and it would be true.

Florida native that I am, there is no denying Florida is a world unto itself and yes, deeply misunderstood. Growing up beneath a sky full of shuttle launches, my father worked at Kennedy Space Center, I saw the first manned shuttle launch of Columbia in 1981 (I’m that old) as well as witnessed the Challenger blowing up with my classmates at school, life can be pretty interesting here and not without its sorrows. Living minutes from the ocean, and less than an hour from all the theme parks it was a magical time to be a kid. I also lived where I had snakes and bobcats in our backyard, so yeah- we are sometimes untamed too! Add the nearby base formerly known as Patrick Air Force now Space Force , where I met and married my future husband, Florida can be pretty serious. It took moving away to England for me to realize just how swampy the air can feel to those who visit. It also tickled me to no end how other people think of us, not just overseas but stateside. After living in England, Japan and North Carolina we returned to my hometown again, which has flourished beyond my imaginings. For a state so many claim to hate and have turned into a long running joke, it certainly isn’t stopping them from making it their home. Naturally, I had to read this book and found myself cringing, nodding my head, and often laughing. It takes another Florida native to really get it! Our experiences can mirror each other and yet be vastly different.

Tyler’s take on our much maligned state is refreshing and just proves the point that Florida is so much more than a punchline. The Atlantic is in my blood, and so is the sunshine. For Florida natives, you take it with you wherever you go, he knows that. Tyler explores the Florida man stories, often not quite what headlines have you believe, surprising facts about the state’s history, the tragic shooting at Pulse Night Club, communities including Miami’s “Little Cuba”, the residents, our laws, the voting system, the wild animals, reptiles and snake farming (including animal smuggling), drag queens, halfway houses, confederate reenactments, conversion therapy, honing in on eclectic “controversial Floridians”- so much more. It is about his time growing up gay and as he says, it’s not meant to ‘defend’ the state but maybe “present a version of Florida other than the caricature so often seen in popular media.” He has done a beautiful job! I was surprised to learn a few things I didn’t even know.

The rest of the country could cut us off all they want, I think we’d still thrive- sure maybe we’re feral but that makes us tough. It’s my belief it’s the hot summers that make us a little wild too. Should our state come with a disclaimer? Nah, we’re not all that bad, people forget what a wild bag of mixed nuts we are. I say that with a grin and a wink. This is a fun read but serious at times too. Well worth your time if you want to know more beyond the ridiculous headlines and unfair assumptions. There really are so many versions of what people experience living here, whether they are natives or transplants. No two stories are alike, and Tyler Gillespie’s words go behind the memes and erase the stereotypes. One thing is a fact, it is always interesting! Yes, read it!!!

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

University Press of Florida

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