Melanie Gillman’s Stage Dreams is a story full of tender moments. Ostensibly a Western focused on two women’s attempt to steal and sell Confederate secrets, Stage Dreams is actually a story about love and acceptance. And there is one moment in the book that is so heartfelt and moving that I could not help but write about it.
One of Stage Dreams‘ two leads, Grace, is a trans woman. Grace ran away from home rather than join the Confederate army, and she hopes to become an actor in San Francisco. When asked whether her parents might be worried about her, Grace says she bets her parents are glad to be rid of her.
That exchange sets up this moment (spoilers ahead), in which Grace encounters her father at the Confederate cotillion she and her partner in crime, Flor, are crashing:
There are largely two ways this moment could have played out. Grace’s dad could have recognized his child, called her out as a deserter, and attempted to turned her in. Or, he could have helped Grace escape.
Delightfully, Gillman chose the less-obvious and 2,000 percent more heartwarming option, putting together a page that made me smile like a moron:
Stage Dreams is one of those rare stories (much like the previously-discussed My Love Story!!) in which kindness takes priority over needless conflict. Which is not to say the story is not exciting – Grace and Flor still barely escape that Confederate party. But when given the choice to lean into contempt or empathy, Gillman chooses empathy every time. That’s what makes Stage Dreams a story worth writing about, and certainly a story worth reading.