Cast Me Gently by Caren J. Werlinger

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Author: Caren J. Werlinger


Teresa Benedetto and Ellie Ryan couldn’t be more different, at least on the surface.

Teresa still lives at home. As much as she loves her boisterous Italian family, she feels trapped by them and their plans for her life. Their love is suffocating her.

Ellie has been on her own for years, working hard to save up enough to live her dream of escaping from Pittsburgh to travel the world. Except leaving isn’t that simple when she knows her brother is out on the streets of the city somewhere, back from Vietnam, but not home.

When Teresa and Ellie meet and fall in love, their worlds clash. Ellie would love to be part of Teresa’s family, but they both know that will never happen. Sooner or later, Teresa will have to choose between the two halves of her heart—Ellie or her family.

Set in 1980, the beginning of the Reagan era and the decline of Pittsburgh’s steel empire, Cast Me Gently is a classic lesbian romance.

Additional information

Publication Date

October 2015


epub, mobi, and pdf




100,000 words




978-3-95533-388-1 (mobi), 978-3-95533-389-8 (epub), 978-3-95533-390-4 (pdf)


Ylva Publishing

3 reviews for Cast Me Gently by Caren J. Werlinger

  1. Lisa T.


    Love has a transformative power, but how this transformation takes place and how it feels is unique to every individual. In Cast Me Gently, love transforms Ellie Ryan and Teresa Benedetto, as well as both of their lives. The story captures so much about falling in love—its power over us, and also the courage it can give us to do what is most difficult. However, falling in love never happens in a vacuum, and one of the many strengths of this work is the richly developed setting and context of Teresa and Ellie’s romance.

    Cast Me Gently is a joyful, but sometimes bittersweet, story of first love, family and the harsh realities of life. It shows us that we can change our situation in life, although we may sometimes need to give things up to achieve these goals.

    Before she begins her relationship with Ellie, Teresa feels boxed in and out of place, “stuck in between” and restless. Her love for Ellie creates a completely new world for Teresa and alters her in many ways. This short quotation demonstrates just how gorgeous Caren J. Werlinger’s prose is in demonstrating this change in Teresa: “It was as if she was being molded into a new shape, a new Teresa – just by knowing her. Ellie had a way of turning her inside out, seeing the bits of her that no one else had ever seen.” (Chapter 8).

    Ellie realizes that as she falls in love, she is, in essence, giving up some control, and that Teresa has a lot of power over. However, in other ways, loving Teresa makes Ellie braver, such as in how she faces issues at her job as a bank teller.

    There are many contrasts between Ellie and Teresa. Although Ellie is eight years younger than Teresa, it’s obvious that she had to grow up very quickly, living on her own and fending for herself. In other ways, we can see that it would be nice if she had someone special to care for her. Teresa, while older, has led a much more sheltered life, and in many ways her life has not changed or moved ahead significantly since she was a teenager. She sees this herself when she falls in love with Ellie.

    I’ve said this before about Caren J. Werlinger’s work, but I think it bears repeating here. Her main characters, in this case Ellie and Teresa, are so relatable because they are so ordinary in many ways. We see them in their daily work and routines, but for both of them, every part of life takes on a new meaning when they fall in love.

    Teresa and Ellie’s relationship is one that that develops organically. It begins through a meeting that is part of everyday life, and grows into a friendship. Hugs and touches take on more meaning, feelings deepen, and they realize that love has grown. As with many of us in our own lives, Teresa and Ellie don’t fall into bed together immediately. Making love is something that they take seriously, and here Caren J. Werlinger demonstrates that she has put a great deal of thought into writing about the physical aspect of their relationship in a way that is fully in keeping with the characters’ personal histories. These scenes are infused with a high level of emotion, and approached with sensitivity and delicacy.

    A significant theme in Cast Me Gently is that of growing up. One might simply consider growing up as the legal onset of adulthood, or a milestone such as graduating from university or becoming financially independent. Yet Cast Me Gently reminds us that for each of us, growing up is a transition that may come about from an internal understanding of a change in oneself, a feeling of maturity, or the knowledge that one has forged one’s own path. This is something that can happen at any age.

    By any definition, Ellie grew up when she was just a teenager and her mother died. Teresa, though a well-educated, professional woman, who’s good at her job as a pharmacist and takes a lot of initiative, has not quite grown up yet. The ties to her parents still hold fast, and she longs for an independence that is not so easy to attain without jeopardizing the family relationships that she cherishes. For Teresa, the story is one of coming out, growing up, and coming of age.

    The dynamics of living at home with one’s parents as an adult is something that is not foreign to many members of the millennial generation, but for younger people today, living at home is more likely to be for economic, rather than cultural, reasons. Teresa lives at home primarily because it’s what her family expects her to do, and she’s never lived on her own. Her situation is even more complex because she works with and for her parents at the family business, Benedetto’s Drug Store. Her parents have a double standard with regard to her brother, Gianni, who also lives at home and works for the family business. Although this is partly the result of the sexism of the era, as well as cultural attitudes, Teresa’s parents still take her for granted in many ways. They treat her as if she were still a teenager, and Teresa seems to accept this situation, although she is not happy with it. When she meets Ellie, Teresa finds that sometimes you might have to break away to save yourself.

    Ellie’s situation of finding herself completely on her own in the world, with no family or support system, is one that many of us would fear. However, Ellie has done amazingly well for herself, and was lucky to find people who lifted her up and supported her in difficult times. She’s hardworking and ambitious, but she also has a creative side. Ellie’s drawings capture moments her inner reflections, including moments of love and joy, but occasionally also capture her darker thoughts and emotions.

    It is refreshing to see characters in Cast Me Gently that reflect the diversity of women’s body shapes, especially those which society does not deem ideal or perfect. I think that many readers will relate to Teresa, who is slightly overweight, unhappy with her nose and hips, and has some issues with body image. Teresa jokes about her weight sometimes, but we can see that she has some insecurities about it, and her body in general. Caren J. Werlinger weaves Teresa’s insecurities with body image throughout the story, and it comes up in subtle ways in Teresa’s thoughts and actions, and in how she deals with physical intimacy.

    In setting the story in 1980-1981 in Pittsburgh, Caren J. Werlinger does not gloss over any of the grittiness of the city, but she also highlights the points in life where beauty can be found. It’s not the most obvious choice for a romance, but in the depth of the dreariness of a Pittsburgh winter, Ellie and Teresa’s love creates its own light. Whether this light is powerful enough to illuminate a path for them to be together in the face of many obstacles, is, at times, uncertain.

    The socio-economic context is interesting, given Pittsburgh’s status as a rust belt city in an economic recession, with large unemployed and homeless populations. The homelessness stands in stark contrast to the city’s close-knit ethnic communities, and Teresa’s Italian community in particular.

    Caren J. Werlinger is adept at building this social and political context into the story seamlessly. Without simply describing or telling us about it, she makes the reader feel as if they have become immersed in another era, the not-too-distant past of the early 1980s. Many little things set the tone of the time period – from the characters driving the small cars that became popular after the oil shocks of the 1970s, to the election of Ronald Reagan, to the secondary character who lights up cigarettes everywhere. Real-world events fit into the story’s timeline in ingenious ways. The atmosphere of Pittsburgh is also established through the use of some local dialect, however this is not overdone.

    In terms of gay rights, the context is significant for Teresa and Ellie’s budding relationship, given that it’s set only twelve years after Stonewall, and before the AIDS crisis. The social context of Ellie and Teresa’s lives as women and as lesbians, and the reactions of family and friends to their relationship are also reflective of the time.

    Even though the book is set in the early 1980s, it speaks to us now. Even today in Western societies, young lesbians whose families are recent immigrants from conservative cultural or religious backgrounds may face very similar struggles as those Teresa faces in Cast Me Gently.

    Caren J. Werlinger also develops the secondary characters brilliantly. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds, their views are far from black and white, and they grow and change in their beliefs, ideas, and interactions with Teresa and Ellie. I particularly liked Teresa’s best friend Bernie, who provides comic relief with her swearing and blunt statements, but at the same time is also very perceptive of the changes in Teresa’s life.

    Cast Me Gently really takes us into the life of Teresa’s big Italian-American family, including the large family gatherings and celebrations. Cooking and food play a major role – from homemade pasta and fresh bread, to cappuccino and pizzelle. Although the Benedettos have been in the United States for several generations, they aren’t far from their roots, and the Italian community, including church, comes first. In a family so large there are sometimes divisions, and Teresa’s family members react differently to the changes in her life – some are perceptive, sympathetic and offer support, others react negatively, and some merely stay on the sidelines.

    Family is a major theme in Cast Me Gently. Whether it’s the kind we are raised in, or the kind we build for ourselves, the story touches on the issues of how we define family, the redefinition of family, and the sometimes tenuous nature of family relationships. It also addresses the point that we may need to let go of certain family members in order to move forward.

    The book is masterfully plotted, and beyond the primary romance, other storylines develop in mysterious and unexpected ways. They are subtle and nuanced, and suggest that, as in real life, things don’t necessarily turn out perfectly. These elements of the story have so many different twists, and capture the uncertainty that prevails in many aspects of life. Overall, Cast Me Gently makes us wonder about the untold stories of the people who sometimes cross our paths.

    The book also touches on some very important social and political issues, including the plight of Vietnam War veterans, who, while often physically or emotionally scarred by their experiences, had no real support system on their return home, and often ended up living on the streets.

    Homelessness, and how easy it is for anyone to fall through the cracks, is always at the forefront of Ellie’s mind, both because she believes that her brother is a member of Pittsburgh’s homeless population, and because she realizes that she might easily have become homeless herself. She therefore has a strong connection to the homeless, and does whatever she can to help. In doing so, she changes Teresa’s understanding of this situation. At the time Ellie comes into Teresa’s life, Teresa begins to see homeless people as individuals, each with their own problems and issues.

    I stated at the beginning of this review that love has a transformative power. However, I think that Cast Me Gently is so compelling that it itself can be transformative—it has the power to transform its readers and how they view the world around them. As with all of Caren J. Werlinger’s work, this story is one that will stay with you for a long time.

    Caren J. Werlinger’s writing is truly beautiful, and this book is demonstrative of her skill and talent. With Cast Me Gently, she provides a unique contribution to lesbian literature, and, in my view, secures her place as one of the foremost authors writing in this genre today.
    For the sake of full disclosure, I beta read the manuscript, and I received a copy of the book from the author in advance of its publication.

  2. Ameliah Faith


    Teresa and Ellie, Sitting in a Tree….

    Set in the 1980s Teresa Benedetto is the dutiful, nerdy daughter of a very Italian couple in a very Italian family in a very American-Italian neighbourhood in Philly. She is 34, frumpy and never been touched. She goes to church every week with the family, works in her parents’ store, lives with her parents, sleeps in the twin bed she has used since she was a child… She is long overdue a change!

    Ellie Ryan is a new teller in the bank the Benedetto’s use. She is an orphan and her only brother lives on the streets somewhere after coming home from Vietnam broken. Her real passion is the desire to travel any and everyplace as soon as she can afford it. In the meantime, she continues to search for her brother and spends time with her cat.

    When these two women meet life for both of them will change forever.

    This was a really interesting book. It is a late in life coming of age and coming out story back before it was entirely safe to do so when there were no rights for the LGBT community and LOTS of discrimination. I came out myself back then and the things Ellie and Teresa go through really brought back memories of the insecurities they faced. I also remember the news accounts of homelessness and unemployment that was rampant during those days. I have to say the story brought back all these feelings and it captured what it was really like to live on the other end of the rich and elite scale.

    I enjoyed the story, the writing was vivid and really put me in the setting. Teresa and Ellie and some of the other characters are simply delightful and way too easy to care about. It has good plot lines and the writing is strong. Another great book by Ms. Werlinger

  3. jeep28


    If this book came with a soundtrack it would be on cassette tape. So grab your boom box and get ready to enter the world of Magnum, P.I. television, rotary telephones, and soon-to-be Reagan politics. Cast Me Gently is set in 1980s Pittsburgh where due to the numerous steel mill layoffs, the homeless and hungry are plentiful. However, author Caren Werlinger provides us with a love story despite the hardships and bleak outlook of the city.

    Even though the main character, Teresa Benedetto, is 34 this is very much a coming-of-age story. She lives at home and works as a pharmacist for her parents’ store, making the presence of family in her life both paramount and smothering. One day Teresa meets Ellie Ryan and the two embark on a relatively normal friendship that eventually leads to much more.

    It’s a basic and simplistic girl-meets-girl storyline that is as common as the acid-washed mom jeans the characters undoubtedly wear. The monotonous atmosphere left me wanting for something with a little more profundity, but these two characters are nice enough that you are genuinely happy for them.

    Werlinger does an exemplary job describing the various settings throughout the book. She is extraordinary at placing the reader directly on the streets with the destitute, on a couch in a one-room apartment, upon a stool at a favorite restaurant, or behind the counter in the quaint store where Teresa works.

    In the book’s first paragraph we are welcomed to the front door of the Benedetto shop. The author wonderfully illustrates Teresa opening the store at dawn, and you almost feel like you’re a customer waiting to pick up a few items. I give full kudos to Werlinger for a strong and beautifully written beginning.

    Unfortunately, this is where my praise for the novel ends because it is by paragraph two, that the author’s writing starts to become static. A pattern begins to emerge in the text where words and phrases are overused and repeated continuously.

    In this particular segment, it is the word grit that is triplicated in quick succession. Dirt, sand, or specks of gravel are just three of many synonyms that could have been used, yet grit finds its way onto the page over and over again. Later on we see repetitiveness with words such as lit, moan, moonlight, and goose bumps. In another section of the book, almost 25% of a 149-word passage was made up of the same two nouns.

    Welinger can absolutely immerse the reader into a scene, but without using a variety of words her talent seems diluted. I think this could have been a simple fix if only the writer or beta reader had pulled out a thesaurus.

    Other examples of the lackadaisical writing include weak dialogue and careless transitions. It appeared that every time something of great importance needed to be said, an interruption would occur. A waiter would arrive, a telephone would ring, a customer would come in, etc… I can understand the importance of a good cliffhanger, but to never pick these unsaid words back up was a major disappointment. I craved for a finished, meaningful conversation to actually happen.

    This novel is told from a combination of viewpoints and in several instances, the lack of precise segues made it difficult to find a point of reference or understand exactly where you were at in the story. Ellie comes with an intricate and complicated history, therefore often she reflects on her past. In addition, a lot of this novel is told from snippets of Teresa’s perspective and internal dialogue. So in order to create a world where these two visions can exist, clear and concise transitions are a must.

    One of the most beautiful things I read was finding out that Teresa was a size 16. Finally, we can imagine a character who is not all just about physical appearance. But my joy was short-lived when I realized the author did nothing but fat-shame the character for her size. For me the absolute worst thing about this book was degrading its main character.

    The author may have been trying to show us a “real” woman with insecurities, but the execution failed miserably. Werlinger kept bringing up Teresa’s size as a negative. I don’t need to hear about how Teresa knocks stuff over with her behind because it’s big. Nor do I need to hear about how she is concerned with the weight limit on elevators or how she is afraid she will break Santa’s lap if she sits on him. It’s appalling, demeaning, and cliché.

    Initially, I thought maybe Werlinger was going to write some sort of arc where Teresa finds out that she can be both large and beautiful. But as the book kept going and the remarks kept showing up, it almost seemed like she was on a subliminal message of fat hate.

    Allowing a character to continuously make self deprecating comments without anyone opposing such thoughts is alarming and beyond disheartening. I questioned the author’s use of a larger character as it seemed her appearance was only a gateway for insults.

    This book does not earn a one star rating simply for the above issues. Cast Me Gently is filled with numerous amounts of plot holes and inconceivable notions. If you choose to read further, know that there are some spoilers- but I could not in good conscious give this book such a low rating without explicitly explaining why.


    1. Best Friend Bungle
    Secondary character, Bernie, is quite possibly one of the most annoying women I have ever read about. Her personality is surrounded by a cloud of racism, adultery, and profanity. She is a teacher who works in a rough neighborhood and shortly into the book, Bernie uses a handful of stereo types in regards to the poor African American families that live there. As someone who has both taught in low-income neighborhoods and worked for HUD, I can attest that not every family is black, nor is every child there the product of a crack whore mama and absent father.

    Additionally, I found Bernie’s ignorant, expletive-laced dialogue hugely uninteresting. I’m no prude but she says so many curse words that it has me as an atheist wanting to go to confession. Her foul language was nonsensical and terribly absurd.

    Overall, Bernie was just not a believable best friend for overly-sheltered Teresa.

    2. Preposterous Plot Hole
    Early on we learn Ellie’s parents are dead and that her older brother, Daniel, went off to fight in Vietnam but returned as a homeless vet. For the past seven years, she has been frantically searching for him on the streets. Often, she places herself in life threatening situations- one of which also becomes a major plot-hole-ish scene later on.

    Concurrently, Teresa befriends a homeless gentleman (Dogman) fitting the description of Ellie’s missing brother. (Ellie also shows Teresa a picture of her brother). So even though Teresa knows of Ellie’s desperate attempts to locate Daniel, she never once introduces them to one another. It isn’t until the last page of Chapter 29 that Teresa even thinks to ask Dogman if his real name is Daniel. The last page of Chapter 29!

    Um, your girlfriend has been in total despair over her brother’s disappearance and you don’t think to make a serious effort in mentioning this man to her other than in passing? The dude even has an Army bag.

    It is all very aggravating since Daniel takes up such a large chunk of Ellie’s narrative and because Dogman plays such a pivotal role in Teresa’s story line.

    3. Outlandish Outing
    Teresa has been spending the night and time in general with Ellie but tells her mom (Sylvia) that she’s been spending all of that time at Bernie’s. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for Teresa to lie about hanging out with Ellie. Everyone knows they have become fast friends so it wouldn’t be weird for them to be spending large amounts of time together.

    Teresa invites Bernie and Bernie’s mom (Angela) over for a Sunday meal when it comes out that Teresa hasn’t been hanging out with Bernie after all. So, from that statement alone, and only that, Sylvia now knows that Teresa and Ellie are a couple. What? How? There have been no context clues given to Teresa’s family for them to ever even assume that their daughter was gay. Yet, in one sentence she is outed.

    This then leads to a very overly-dramatic seemingly Dynasty-inspired slapping scene that I’m still not over.

    4. Ludicrous Love Scenes
    Teresa is a virgin and the first time she has ever really been kissed was by Ellie on Christmas Day. But when she uses the terminology “down there” for her anatomy, I rolled my yes. It could have been believable because of her inexperience, however she’s a pharmacist. I think she knows the word vagina. Teresa probably fills prescriptions for women’s vaginas every day. So “down there” was really odd and ridiculous.

    When it comes to the actual lovemaking scene, Teresa, who has had nothing but terrible things to say about her appearance, just disrobes without hindrance or hesitation. If she has such a poor outlook in regards to her presence, then it stands to reason she would be worried about what she looks like at her most vulnerable especially when Ellie has been written as lithe and thin.

    Actual excerpt: Ellie stepped closer and, with more dexterity than Teresa, unhooked Teresa’s bra and let it slide to the floor, freeing her breasts. She placed her hands under the soft weight of them. The nipples didn’t harden like Ellie’s did, but that didn’t stop Teresa from gasping when Ellie bent to take one in her mouth.

    Ok, I’m sorry, but it’s New Year’s night in Pittsburgh in 1981. It was 30 degrees that evening (I googled it on the weather channel) thus Teresa’s nipples and everyone else’s would be hard whether they wanted them to be or not. And whose nipples don’t harden? This is Teresa’s first time of ever being touched and it’s by someone she is crazy about. Please.

    These may seem like small, insignificant details. But for me, excellent writing does not include distractions that can pull you away from the story. I do not want my brain saying “Wait, what?” when it can be saying, “Oh, yes.”

    These are only a handful of the questionable aspects presented within this work, but if I wrote about all of them my review would be longer than the book itself. This is my first Werlinger read, but it is the author’s eighth published novel. I would have surmised that the content would be of a much higher caliber and that it would have resembled a more experienced style. I have seen some of the most eloquent posts on Facebook by this author, and I have read lovely prose in her blogs, but I am befuddled by the writing and dissatisfying quality of this book.

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