“Mysterious Skin” by Scott Heim

Mysterious Skin

Earlier this year I read Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim and only now am I getting around to reviewing it. I recall when I finished it my reaction was “Wow!” This is an engrossing and extraordinarily well-written work, especially when one considers that it was Heim’s first published novel. The subject matter is one of society’s great taboos, child abuse/pedophilia. The story traces the lives of two young boys, Brian Lackey and Neil McCormick, both eight years old when the tale begins; they live in Hutchinson, Kansas about 50 miles NW of Wichita and the year is 1981. While they do not really know one another until the story’s end eleven years later, their lives are very much connected. The two though could not be more different.

Brian is quiet, withdrawn and a somewhat nerdy kid. He is one of two children in a middle-class family in which the parents are increasingly growing apart. Brian’s father is determined to make his son a Little League star even though the boy has no interest and very little talent. In the opening chapter Brian is under the crawl space of his house late at night, bruised and confused, having no recollection of what happened to him over the past five hours. He eventually becomes convinced he was abducted by aliens and held captive in a UFO. Trying to discover what occurred on that fateful evening is his narrative.

Neil lives with his single, promiscuous mom on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. He is daring and a hell-raiser, the total opposite of Brian. We learn early on that he has been seduced and sexually abused by “Coach” Heider. Rather than feeling violated by the experience, he is comfortably drawn into the relationship. As the story progresses and Neil reaches puberty, he turns to hustling and targets adult men, craving the satisfaction and security he experienced with Coach Heider. Unlike Brian who cannot remember what happened to him, Neil cannot and does want to forget.

The story has a shifting first person POV. Besides Brian and Neil we see the story unfold through the perspective of three other people:

•Deborah, Brian’s sister
•Wendy Peterson, Neil’s close friend since sixth grade who has a serious crush on Neil but who eventually must accept the fact that his sexual cravings are not for the opposite sex
•Eric Preston, Neil’s other close friend who is gay and in love with Neil although the feeling is not mutual

Other key characters include Avelyn Friesen, whom Brian seeks out when he learns of her accounts of being abducted by aliens, Brian’s parents, Neil’s mother and of course Coach Heider.

This is not a book for the squeamish and I am certain many will be repelled by the graphic descriptions of Coach Heider’s appalling predatory behavior. If however you can stomach the subject matter, it is difficult to not be impressed by the incredible story that Heim has to tell. The author tells a frightening, disturbing tale populated with believable and interesting characters.

In 2004 there was a film adaptation of the book starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet as the teenage Neil and Brian, and Bill Sage as the Coach. Gordon-Levitt has recently become one of my favorite actors and seems the perfect actor to capture Neil’s complex and fascinating character. The film like the book received excellent reviews and I look forward to seeing it sometime soon. The novel is a definite winner, perhaps the best book I have read in 2014.

“Language Lessons” by Jay Bell: A Short Review of a Short Story

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This is a cute (maybe a little too cute?) short story about a 16 year-old guy who because of his parents’ failed marriage does not believe in love. Instead he is really only interested in regularly getting laid. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that especially when you have the raging hormones of sixteen. That’s just who Joey is. When we first meet Joey he is home and sees through his window a guy whom he has longed to snag for at least two years and who has just come home from college. For the next forty pages we follow his escapades which culminate in his seriously falling for someone much to our protagonist’s surprise.

This was a quick, easy, amusing and entertaining story. Earlier this year I read the author’s Something Like Summer which I enjoyed a great deal. This work was not quite up to the caliber of the Summer book but considering its brevity it may be a bit unfair to compare the two works.  It was good as far as it went, just not quite good enough to merit a higher rating from me. I do like the author’s light and breezy writing style and his positive portrayal of M/M relationships. I have two more of his books on my To Read list, including Something Like Winter which parallels the story line of Something Like Summer, only this time through the eyes and mind of the other party in that romantic tale. I posted a review of the Summer book in September. If you are interested you can read that review here.

PS: I am going to be out of the country for a couple of weeks so this will be my last post until I get back. If you like my reviews, thanks. I promise I will be posting another in late October after I return.

“Something Like Summer” by Jay Bell

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Something Like Summer is the first work by Jay Bell that I have read; I am certain I will be savoring more of his books in the future. I read this six months ago during a particularly stressful and painful time for me, when one of my two dogs was missing for four weeks. It was actually just what I needed at the time; something light, entertaining, humorous as well as poignant. It went a long way in taking my mind off the melodrama in my own life. After spending sometimes 8 to 10 hours looking for my girl Tink and coming home empty-handed and depressed, curling up with this book was a welcome relief. It was the perfect choice. FYI: the missing Tink saga had a happy ending and she is lying five feet from me as I write this.

Although pegged as a YA novel, as someone certainly not a young adult (I am two generations removed from that stage of life) I found this to be both delightful and engrossing. This is the very touching story of first love, of Ben Bentley and Tim Wyman who meet in high school and whose lives become intertwined over the next twelve years. Tim, the new kid in town from a well-to-do,  conservative, religious (translation: homophobic) family, is the classic jock, albeit a closeted one. Ben is an out-and-proud gay teenager who because of his willingness to live his life openly is subjected to ridicule at school and has only a small circle of friends. When Ben first sets eyes on Tim it is lust at first sight and he soon is going out of his way to be around him as much as possible. This obsession eventually leads to Ben colliding into Tim, injuring Tim seriously enough that he needs to have someone help care for him. Since Tim’s parents are out-of-town for an extended period when this happens, Ben hits the jackpot and becomes Tim’s nursemaid. The two soon become good friends and a romance starts to blossom. However because Tim is not comfortable with his same-sex longings, the two eventually split only to meet again years later. By now Ben has been in a long-term relationship with Jace, a flight attendant. Life becomes complicated. Time for me to stop before spoiling any more of the story.

I found both Ben and Tim to be believable, likeable and yes definitely flawed and at times immature. When either one made bad choices or decisions, I was temporarily disappointed and annoyed but soon rooting for him again. Ben is inclined to act first and think later which at times gets him into a world of trouble. Tim on the other hand is more deliberate in his approach and is capable of Machiavellian behavior, most clearly demonstrated late in the book. Jace, the pivotal third major character, is the quintessential knight in shining armor, and the love he displays for Ben when Tim reintroduces himself will make anyone with a sense of decency cheer him on. All three characters learn as most of us do in the course of our lives that love is usually messy, complicated and not very easy, especially once one gets past the puppy love stage.

The tale is told through the eyes of Ben although the author’s follow-up book Something Like Winter is Tim’s accounting of their relationship. I very much look forward to reading that work soon. It is always interesting to see a different perspective on events and relationships. Sometimes this is done within the same book but I think in the right hands it is more fascinating and effective to read the one viewpoint, draw your own conclusions, and then begin afresh through another set of eyes. For me the best example of where this was accomplished so successfully was in Anne Rice’s great classics, Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, two of my all-time favorite novels. While either book individually tells a great story, after reading Louis’ account of his stormy and passionate relationship with Lestat, the second book puts the events of their lives in a very different light. I have a hunch Mr. Bell will not let me down with his sequel to this very satisfying book.

An interesting footnote is that the book is now being adapted for the big screen. Shooting is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2015. You can read more about it here. www.somethinglikesummer.com/  I eagerly look forward to seeing the film.

 

A Wonderful Message from an Incredibly Gifted Writer

I just today received the following message from J. H. Trumble, whose novel Just Between Us I reviewed last week. “I love you Ed Hartnett! I’m so touched by your review of this book, all my books! I worried a lot about JBU, but I know you to be a discriminating reader. So if JBU worked for you, then I am satisfied. Thank you so much!”

I cannot begin to express how flattered I was to get such a wonderful message from her. This was her third novel and I have now read all three, loving each one. If you type in J. H. Trumble in the search bar you can find my reviews of each of her works. Do yourself a favor and read at least one of these books very soon!

Background Reading for My Novel: “Just Between Us” by J. H. Trumble

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Just Between Us is the third book by J.H. Trumble that I have read in the past seven months and just like her first two she has scored another clear winner with this one. Since  my own book deals with a young gay man in his late teens, I have sought to read books with a similar theme in hopes of learning from others what for me at least works and what does not. It was this mindset that led me to read her first novel Don’t Let Me Go. Having enjoyed that so much I then read Where You Are which I enjoyed even more. Just Between Us is her most recent work. While each of her novels has a common thread of young gay men in love, the author successfully tackles very different topics in each. Don’t Let Me Go focuses on issues of gay-bashing and the challenges of trying to keep alive a relationship when two people are living more than a thousand miles apart. Where You Are dares to take on the explosive issue of student/teacher intimacy. Just Between Us chronicles the hurdles of two people being attracted to each other and then having one of them learn that he is HIV positive.

The main characters of this work are Luke Chesser and Curtis Cameron, ages 17 and 19 respectively. Luke was a major secondary character in Don’t Let Me Go. He is a high school junior and is still recovering from having his heart broken in his first romantic fling. Having an abusive, homophobic father does not help matters any. Fortunately for him his physician mom and younger brother are loving and supportive. He is a member of the school’s marching band which is a big part of his life and that helps to fill in some of life’s blank spaces. Curtis is in college but attended the same high school as Luke. After spending a good portion of his time partying in his college freshmen year he returns home and helps out as a field tech in Luke’s marching band. Unlike Luke, Curtis’ widowed dad is very accepting of his being gay as is his twin sister. The two young men soon become attracted to one another and start spending time together while postponing any sexual intimacy.

The proverbial you-know-what hits the fan when Curtis learns he is HIV positive. By now he cares deeply about Luke and is terrified that he may infect him if they have sex. The remainder of the story focuses on how these conflicted lovers and others around them deal with the news. Having been a sexually active gay man before and during the Age of AIDS and having watched scores of friends succumb to the disease, I fully appreciate what devastating news this normally is for someone. While HIV/AIDS is today not the death sentence that thirty years ago most people viewed it to be, it is a terrifying and life-altering experience for those who contract it and the people who love them. The author does a superior job depicting Curtis’ coping with the news and the stages of grief he experiences: denial, anger, depression and eventual acceptance. The reaction of Luke and others is likewise very believable. The author once again tackles a difficult issue and avoids creating clichéd characters and situations. This is a very moving, at times heart-breaking and at other times triumphal story. Just as she did in Where You Are, the story is told from the perspective of the two main characters and the technique works as effectively in this book as it did in the earlier one.

Rereading my review of her previous works, I see that what impressed me about those stories is much of what I so enjoyed reading this one. Of Don’t Let Me Go I wrote: “a very sweet, tender coming-of-age novel but not one that is overly sweet, throwing in enough drama and darkness to make it all seem very real. All of the characters have their flaws… He is impulsive and foolish at times and certainly does his share of dumb things. There are times when I wanted to kick him in the butt and other times when I wanted to tell him to stop being so insecure.” Of Where You Are I commented: “He is tormented trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, struggling with the collision course of wanting to be there for Robert, the growing sexual attraction he and Robert are feeling for one another, and his terror of where all of this may lead.”  Except for proper names, the comments are just as  true about this work. That in no way suggests the author is somehow using a cookie-cutter approach to her writing but rather that she has the rare gift to make her stories and characters appealing and believable. Not wanting to spoil too much of the plot I will simply say there were several times when I became very choked up reading this book and my eyes started filling with tears. That does not happen often when I am reading and I can only say thank you ever so much Ms. Trumble for your incredible writing talent and for giving me hours of enjoyable reading. You are a true inspiration for me in my efforts. For anyone who has not read any of her books put all three at or near the top of your To Read list. You are in for some phenomenal works. And please, please another book soon I hope!

Favorite Books That I Read in 2013

I’ve had the good fortune to have read some incredible books these past twelve months. Earlier this week I posted a rant here about the books that appear on a goodreads thread titled Best Books Ever, a list to which I took strong exception. So for the record the works I mention below are the ones I read this past year that I most enjoyed and which I believe have helped to make me a better writer; each of them I found truly outstanding. I will not attempt to rank these; each was superb in its own special way. Thus they are arranged in alphabetical order by title. These authors have all truly inspired me as I work to complete and get published my own first novel. I have also included my Honorable Mention List. A number of the books on both lists were the author’s first published work, wonderful encouragement for those of us who hope to see our own first book in print. The date following the author’s name is where you will find a more detailed review of each of these works in the Archive section to the right. Happy Holiday Reading!

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham: (May 2013) One of my new favorite authors, the story centers around the relationship between two people who meet as young boys, experiment sexually with each other, move apart and reconnect later in life. Beautiful, heartwarming, funny and sad. This book preceded his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Hours.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman: (Feb. 2013) Set in the Italian Riviera and viewed from the perspective of someone looking back on events that happened in the distant past. Aciman creates an erotic energy between two young men that is not consummated until late in the book. Rarely have I ever seen such a beautiful mastery of language and images. I was in complete awe by the time I finished this brilliant literary novel.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: (Feb. 2013) The tragic, heart-breaking story of doomed love set in 1950’s Paris. One of the great breakthroughs of 20th century literature and one perfectly executed.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: (Aug. 2013) What can I possibly say that has not been said ad infinitum about one of the greatest pieces of American fiction? How did I ever get this far into life without having already read it? A masterpiece without question.

Where You Are by J.H. Trumble: (Nov. 2013) I read two books this year by this incredibly gifted author. This one dares to take head-on the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy forcing the reader to not think in black & white terms. She creates a beautiful, complex and thoughtful work in the process.

Winter Birds: A Novel by Jim Grimsley: (Dec. 2013) A grim, painful and frightening novel set in a poor rural North Carolina home dealing with an abusive and alcoholic man who terrorizes his wife and five children. 

Honorable Mention List

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette: (May 2013) This memoir is so painful, so poignant, so beautifully written and deals with the author’s struggle for the first half of his life to accept himself as a gay man. So sad that this great author died way too soon.

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble: (June 2013) The other novel I read by this talented author this year and her first. The story centers on two young men deeply in love who face serious challenges and jealousies when circumstances force them to live far apart from one another. This author has really impressed me.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: (Aug 2013) One of three books I read by Grimsley this year. A disturbing, powerful and moving story of forbidden and unspoken love in the rural South.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: (Sept. 2013) This book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, whose lives are interconnected, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance. At times quite humorous, at other times fairly serious.

Three Junes by Julia Glass: (Aug. 2013) The 2002 National Book Award Winner. Three separate but interconnected stories taking place in Greece, Scotland and New York during three Junes over a ten-year period. Fascinating work!

 

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan was somewhat of a departure for me from what I have been reading of late. This was not because of the subject matter; most of the books I have recently read have had a gay and/or coming-of-age theme to them since the novel on which I am working deals with both of those issues. Levithan’s novel is a celebration of being gay and it is that celebratory mood that sets this book apart from most of what I have been reading. The story’s main character Paul is a high school sophomore who lives in an incredibly gay-friendly small town. Just how gay-friendly is it? A couple of examples will demonstrate my point. The homecoming queen is six-foot four Infinite Darlene; she used to be a guy named Daryl and also happens to be the star quarterback of the school’s football team. A gay-straight alliance was organized at the school so the straight kids could learn to dance and how to dress better. There are other examples of the unusually relaxed attitudes of students, teachers and parents in this fantasy small town but these are two of the most hilarious ones.

The story is told through the eyes of Paul who has known he was gay ever since kindergarten; yes I did say kindergarten. He, his parents and brother are all very comfortable with his being gay as is practically everyone else in the community. Paul is popular at school; his two closest friends are Joni, whom he has known since second grade and who is brutally blunt about her feelings, and Tony who lives in a nearby town. Tony’s home life is the complete opposite of Paul’s. His parents are feverishly religious and keep him on a short leash so that he won’t be corrupted by Paul or others of his ilk. Tony also is gay but closeted because of his parents’ beliefs and attitudes. The struggle Tony must endure to break loose from his parents’ control is the dark side of what is otherwise a very light, quirky and humorous story.

The heart of the story though is Paul’s meeting a new kid in school named Noah and falling for him big time. The two teenagers begin spending a lot of time together and a romance starts developing. When I say romance I’m talking about nothing more risqué than simple sweet kissing; the book is aimed at a YA audience and the author does a stellar job of maintaining a PG quality to his writing. Paul and Noah’s romance though is seriously jeopardized by the reintroduction of Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle into his life. Not wanting to spoil the plot, I will refrain from commenting further about this complication.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following: “Tony and I figure the best thing a straight boy with religious, intolerant parents can do for his love life is tell his parents he’s gay. Before Tony’s parents discovered he was gay, they wouldn’t let him shake hands with a girl. Now if he mentions he’s doing something with a girl – any girl – they practically pimp him out the door.” The lighthearted, whimsical nature of those three sentences should give you a good sense what a joyfully playful book this is to read.

This was Levithan’s debut novel and won him the 2004 Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. We know that places like Paul’s town sadly do not exist but how much fun was it to think that such a world is possible even for the short time it takes to read this book. I plan to read more by this talented and entertaining author in 2014.

Background Reading for My Novel: ” Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I read some very positive reviews of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and since it had a theme similar to the novel I am writing (young men in their late teens dealing with angst and same-sex attraction), I decided to check it out. Published in 2012 and winner of several awards, this is the story of two Mexican-American boys with very different personalities and interests who are living in El Paso, TX in the 1980’s. Aristotle or Ari as he calls himself is an introverted, lonely kid whose older brother is in prison for reasons that have never been explained to him. Dante is friendly and outgoing, an only child, loves art and reading and has a wonderful relationship with both his parents. The two meet one day at a neighborhood pool where Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. They quickly become close friends.

This book was not bad but also disappointed me after all the hype I read about it. For starters, I didn’t like the author’s overuse of short choppy sentences – it reminded me of Hemingway, a comparison I’m sure the author would love. Coming from me though that is definitely not a compliment. As a side note, I read The Sun Also Rises about a year ago and hated it. For any Hemingway fans out there sorry…I regard Hemingway as the most overrated twentieth century author.

Getting back to this book, I also found the dialogue to be incredibly dumb and annoying; the two main characters are supposed to both be smart teenagers and yet their conversations sounded more like high school drop-outs on a fairly consistent basis. I also found it a bit incredulous that the story takes place in the 1980’s and somehow any mention or concern about AIDS is never addressed even though anyone who lived through that decade knows AIDS was terrorizing the human psyche at the time. Granted this is not a book where sexual intimacy plays a big role but it still strikes me as odd that no one in the story, especially the parents, ever raises this as a concern. Adding to the book’s lack of realism, the two main characters live in El Paso, TX and are from Mexican American families and the reader is supposed to believe that both sets of parents are perfectly ok with their sons’ attraction to members of the same-sex. I’m sure then and now such families exist but having two sets of parents be so cutesy homo-supportive in a culture that even almost thirty years after the story takes place is pretty hostile to the LGBT community seems a stretch at best.

On the plus side I thought the author had a good story to tell. I just don’t feel he did it in a very effective or interesting way. Perhaps because the target audience was YA, the author wrote the book the way he did. If his goal was to make LGBT teenage readers feel good about themselves then perhaps he succeeded.  In my mind there are far better books with a gay sub-text to them out there that are geared to the YA audience. Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Boys and Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble are just two examples.

To sum it all up, not a terrible book but nothing special in my mind, especially considering some of the really great works I have read this year. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate it 5.5. I’ll probably pass on any future books by the author.

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “Where You Are” by J. H. Trumble

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Where You Are is definitely one of the best books I was fortunate enough to read this year and I have had the good fortune to have read my share of excellent books during that time. In May I read the author’s first novel Don’t Let Me Go which I loved and instantly became a big fan of hers. I checked goodreads to find out what else she had written and saw Where You Are listed as well as a soon-to-be-released new book, Just Between Us. I quickly added both to my To Read list and this month picked up a copy of Where You Are. I definitely needed to find something to enjoy since the last three books I had acquired had disappointed; two of them were so unsatisfactory I did not even bother to finish them which is highly unusual for me. Ooh la la! I could not have possibly chosen a better book to read this time.

The author bravely tackles the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy and in the process of telling a fascinating story does a superb job of showing the reader that this is not necessarily the black and white issue that the news media and our cultural mores are so quick to paint. Robert Westfall is a high school senior whose world is crumbling around him. His father is in the final stage of a ten-year battle with brain cancer, his meddling, judgmental aunts and their children have taken up residence in the Westfall home and his self-centered boyfriend is totally unsupportive. Added to this is the fact that Robert and his father have never been close emotionally and now Robert is dealing with guilty feelings wishing his father would die soon so that he can get on with his life and be rid of the occupation of his home by his father’s siblings and their obnoxious offspring.

Andrew McNelis is Robert’s math teacher, a young attractive man in only his second year of teaching who is moved by the suffering his star pupil is enduring. He wants to do whatever he can to help Robert in the tough times he is experiencing and tries to give him the attention and support he feels he needs. Andrew also happens to be gay, making it a point to keep his sexual identity a secret at school although it’s not quite the secret he thinks it is. He has a two-year old daughter Kiki whom he absolutely adores and who was conceived with his long-time best friend Maya on a night that they had unplanned sex. As the story progresses Robert and Andrew begin spending more time together, frequently exchanging text messages and in the process becoming more and more attracted to each other. Andrew knows he is walking on a very thin tightrope and realizes he could jeopardize not only his career but his relationship with his daughter and possibly face time in jail if he crosses the line of acceptable teacher/student relationship.  He is tormented trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, struggling with the collision course of wanting to be there for Robert, the growing sexual attraction he and Robert are feeling for one another, and his terror of where all of this may lead.

The storyline is told from the perspective of both Robert and Andrew so the reader has a clear image that this is not the case of a teacher using his power and position to force himself on an innocent child. After reading this book, I do know that I will probably never again hear a news story about a “scandalous” teacher/student relationship and be quick to make harsh judgments.

This is way too good a story to spoil by saying anything more about the plot. It is one of those books I just did not want to put down. One sure indication for me that I am truly enjoying a book is when I realize I have only sixty or so pages left to read and find myself wishing that the book was longer. So it was with this gem. All the characters both major and minor are totally believable and with the exceptions of Robert’s self-absorbed boyfriend Nic and Robert’s aunts all have admirable qualities as well as their share of flaws. Correction: on the other side of the scale from Nic and Robert’s aunts is Andrew’s daughter Kiki who is totally precious.

If you have not yet read this book, pick up a copy soon and treat yourself to a fantastic read. I cannot wait to now read the author’s recently published Just Between Us and can only hope that more books are in the works. Probably not since Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles so captivated me has one author so successfully entrapped me in her snare. I will at year’s end be posting here on my blog a list of the best books I read this year. Where You Are will certainly be on that short list.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Rainbow Boys” by Alex Sanchez

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I generally like to review a book as soon as possible after I have read it, knowing that my recollection of the story’s details and what I liked and disliked about the book are not going to improve with the passage of time, unlike a good bottle of wine. The wisdom of that perspective was born out when I allowed more than a month to pass from the time I read Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez and when I decided late yesterday to write a review. Having read two other books since then, I was struggling last night to remember the minutiae of the novel and wound up skimming it for about half an hour to reacquaint myself with it.

Regarded as YA fiction the book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance when the story begins. Jason is a popular jock with a steady girlfriend who frequently has dreams about sex with other guys. Kyle knows he is gay but wants to remain closeted both to his classmates and family and who has a serious crush on Jason. Nelson or Nelly as he is disparagingly called by his classmates is out to the world and has a mother who gives him a level of support that most gay teens only wish they had. He and Kyle are good friends; to complete the triangle of emotional entanglement, Nelson secretly swoons over Kyle. When the story begins  Jason with much trepidation decides to attend a Rainbow Youth meeting after postponing for weeks going to it. Amongst the twenty or so youth there he spots Nelson and Kyle and is horrified that he is now going to be outed at school by the flamboyant Nelson. He’s also confused seeing Kyle there who, though while not quite the jock that Jason is, is a star of the swim team and does not fit his image of a faggot.

The novel proceeds to trace the events in the lives of these three young men as their lives become increasingly intertwined and as Nelson and Kyle take on the challenge of trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at Whitman High. There are wonderfully touching moments in the book, some quite humorous, some capturing the thrill of first sexually satisfying intimacy, and others disturbingly portraying ugly homophobia. I felt the author did a very credible job creating believable characters, capturing the pathos of each of their situations. Certainly the journey that Jason travels is the steepest but by the novel’s end all three individuals are stronger and more self-confident.

At the end of the book the author provides a very useful list and description of ten resources for teens struggling with sexuality issues, such as the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network)Advocates for Youth, Youth Guardian Services, leaving little doubt that his story is intended for the YA audience. However this is a book that I believe has a much wider appeal than young adults and one I found not only very enjoyable but very useful for me in writing my novel, whose protagonist is a contemporary gay man in his late teens.

First published in 2001, Rainbow Boys was Alex Sanchez’s first novel and was selected as a “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2002. This was the first of his Rainbow trilogy; he has written a number of other books as well, all of which have received positive reviews. Thank you Alex for a good story and for helping to make me a better writer.