Bill Konigsberg’s Gay Teen Read “Out of the Pocket” Scores a 3-Point Field Goal, Not a Touchdown

Out of the Pocket CoverOut of the Pocket
Bill Konigsberg
Dutton Books (Hardback)
 
ISBN-13-9780525479963

three star-rating


A couple of months ago when the Lambda Literary Foundation’s 21st list of awarded gay books came out, I promised to read some of them and post my personal reviews.

I found one from the LGBT Childrens/Young Adult top picks at my nearby Barnes and Noble: Out of the Pocket by sports writer Bill Konigsberg. I immediately read it, and forgot about it.

Since then, I’ve read and been reading on several other books and posted reviews of a couple of them. Then a couple of days ago, I saw a new posting of the Lambda book list and realized that Konigsberg’s novel had been the top choice in the LGBT Childrens/Young Adult category, and I thought to myself, “I’ve read that book and got it somewhere.” I looked a bit and thought maybe I was mistaken about having read it; then while uncovering a pile of papers on top of my printer, I found it.

Last night, I re-read it, and now wonder why it is the top selection in its category. I must admit, though, I haven’t read the other contenders yet.

What Konigsberg has written (and maybe this is why the book has been ranked 1st) is a “safe” book. The theme is not a new one: it’s the coming out story of a high school guy; in this case, though, it’s the story of a star quarterback of a highly rated football team being somewhat pushed out of the closet.

Konigsberg’s writing is smooth and suits the storyline of his jock main character, Bobby Framington. But whether it was part of the writer’s intent or not, I felt little empathy for Bobby because Bobby shows very little empathy for others. This jock is part of the top click that many high schools have. He and his “sort of” girlfriend have an on-going role-play, in which she is “Annette” and he is “Biff”. In a lot of ways, though, Bobby is a “Biff”; he lives a comfortable life, has party-boy football jock friends, and is supported by school mentors before and throughout his coming out.

Actually, his nemesis, the high school news reporter who outs Bobby, comes across as a more honest and real character, one some readers will identify with in this dialogue:

Finch shrugged. “You jocks have no idea what it’s like to have a bad time.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him.
“Bobby, everyone likes you. You think being gay will stop people from liking you? I bet it didn’t. I wrote that article, and for like a day, people came up to me and made me feel like I was something. Then it was over. It was like I didn’t write it at all.”
The laugh came from deep in my gut. “Poor Finch,” I said. “That must be hard for you not being popular.”

It’s clear that Bobby is one of the popular kids, and even though after his outing, a couple of gay students from outside his group try to make a connection, Bobby seems not to really identify with them. Konigsberg’s story would have had a greater appeal had it taken chances with characters outside of Bobby’s “safe” world.

I’m not sure what Konigsberg’s real purpose was in writing this book. On one hand, because of the click in which he has placed his main character, I don’t see that a lot of gay kids who are struggling with their own coming out, especially with the pressures from both inside and out of school, will find someone to identify with. I guess there may be some comfort and guidance for some young gay athletes who might be trying to figure out what coming out might be like, but the fact that Bobby comes out “OK” with every difficulty he encounters will be hard for many young readers’ (athletes or not) to believe.

Despite the story’s problems, I’m sure that school librarians across the country will be able to “stay in the pocket” with this book, because it’s a “safe” gay book for teens. The most intimate the story gets is a kiss, and yes, that’s one kiss, and even though Bobby manages to get a boyfriend almost before he has come out, the relationship seems much more like a friendship than romance.

When it comes to teen coming out stories that deal with sports, for my two cents, these books are better reads:

  • Rainbow Boys (and the other books in the series)–by Alex Sanchez (basketball and swimming)
  • Pins–by Jim Provenzano (wrestling)
  • Clay’s Way–by Blair Mastbaum (surfing)
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Steve Kluger’s Teen Novel “My Most Excellent Year” May Need a Spoonful of “Reality” To Go with the Sugar-coating

excellent-yearMy Most Excellent Year–A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park
Steve Kluger
Dial Books (Hardback), Penguin (Paperback)
ISBN-13-9780803732278

0185d371410f29521


Last night I finished Steve Kluger’s novel, My Most Excellent Year–A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. Since I have set out to review some of the books I am reading, this morning I’ll have at it before I forgot too much to be able to write about it.

The title extension, “A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park” gives the reader some definite clues about what might be found in this fanciful story, and “fanciful” this novel is indeed. The plot centers on the closely interwoven lives of three high school freshmen: T.C., a Red Sox-loving, future politician; Augie, a soccer-playing, musical showman, sparkling in his own gay self-awareness; and Alejandra, a hob-nobbing diplomat’s daughter, soon-to-be stage ingenue.

Kluger creates the storyline of these teenagers by devoting each consecutive chapter to the point of view of one of the main character’s in a variety of narrative means: essays for class, emails, and text messages. This unusual style takes a bit of getting used to, but Kluger manages to keep the story smooth and cohesive throughout.

I keep coming back to the idea of “fanciful”; there’s no better way to describe this story. These three 15-year-olds lead such active lives that not even the most adept soccer mom could keep up: they play sports, create and perform elaborate shows, excel in school, and even have time to bring a deaf orphan into their lives. Moreover, if some problem does come into their idyllic lives, one way or another it’s solved, faster than Proactiv on a Jessica Simpson pimple!

This book has been out for more than a year (March 2008), so I wondered what other reviews might say; everything I’ve read so far is glowing. Powells.com says this: “Steve Kluger is an acclaimed author of novels for adults, and this is his first crack at writing for teens. And in case you were wondering, he totally nails it.”

When I went to Kluger’s own website, I realized I had read a couple of his books before; I don’t remember much about them, though.

The big question in my mind is really, “Who was Kluger’s audience when he wrote this book?” Powell’s thinks he “totally nails it.” For teen readers, I’m not so sure. This book is replete with references to show biz, political, and sports notables, mostly of the 60s, 70s, and 80s–Liza Minelli and Julie Andrews, Jacqueline Kennedy and JFK, Bucky Dent–not the most common figures these days.

Language-wise, My Most Excellent Year–A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park is written for young readers (I found it in the Juvenile Literature section of the library). There is no strong language and the most intimacy between the characters is hand-holding and a couple of kisses. I suppose someone might get upset that one of the kisses is between two teenage boys.

But once again who is this book written for? There’s not enough sports competition for teenagers into sports to be really pulled into it. Aside from at one point, when Augie’s boyfriend wants him to act more masculine, his sexuality is fully accepted by everyone– his parents, teachers, and classmates, and after he realizes that he is gay–by he himself. There are several romantic relationships that do keep the story moving and cohesive, but once again, this story is so “fanciful” (and predictable) that the outcome of each is a foregone conclusion.

This is not a book that is going to assuage the bullying that some gay kid is getting in school, and this is not the book that is going to give a kid some glimpse of how to deal with un-accepting parents and friends.

However, this may be the “fanciful” book that allows that same kid a way to escape from some of his own “reality” for a few hours.

But with all of the historical references that are part of it, though, I’d say this novel was more likely written by Steve Kluger for Steve Kluger.

Eight Seconds by Jean Ferris: Book Review

eight-seconds2EIGHT SECONDS
Jean Ferris
Harcourt Brace
Young Adult
ISBN: 0152023674

0185d371410f29521


Just like movie trailers, some book reviews give more information than I need, especially if they are not that long and involved. I would prefer that the review entice me rather than give too much information and spoil the story.

Let’s say this about Eight Seconds: the story is one of those that keeps the reader intrigued throughout the entire story. Of course, it’s aimed at the teenage reader, and obviously, being reviewed here, it has a running gay theme, but I’d actually call it gay “light”.

The story centers on John, a guy’s guy, growing up on a working ranch, who is learning to be a rodeo cowboy. Underlying the main storyline of a teenage boy growing up on a his parents’ Rocky Mountain ranch is John’s own journey of self-discovery.

Teenagers, whether gay, straight, or uncertain are going to relate to John’s own experience in figuring out who he is. Although the book’s central character is an 18-year-old guy, girls too will be pulled into the story’s constantly changing (and realistic) relationships. Librarians and parents should not have any problems with their kids even as young as 11 or 12 reading Eight Seconds (unless they are completely hostile towards the topic of homosexuality) because the text contains no strong language nor any type of direct sexual activity.

John’s sense of “innocent self-discovery” during his late teens is one of the most attractive elements to this story as compared with other similar “coming out” novels, which frequently revolve around teens in a school environment and the difficulties they encounter. This particular “slower” coming out process will be one that many readers will be able to relate to. Another positive aspect of this novel is that while we are able to empathize with John through his personal evolution, we also see other characters in the story at varying levels of acceptance of homosexuality.

If you are interested in reading Eight Seconds, check your local library, your local bookstore, or order it on line.

You can find out more about the author Jean Ferris at her website.

It’s a Good Time To Curl Up with a Book; Check Out the Award Nominees for the 21st Lambda Book Awards

lgbt-booksWith so many of us with our eyes glued to our monitors these days, it’s no wonder that bookstores are closing their doors and even some big city newspapers are shutting down their presses.  However, there are only so many websites and blogs that a guy can strain his eyes on until he wants to just back off for awhile and say to himself, “Move away from the keyboard.  Move away from the keyboard.”

Unusually chilly and wet, this past weekend was the kind that makes a person just want to curl up under a fuzzy blanket and read a good book, and that’s exactly what I did.  (Because of that, I’ve decided to start a new category on my blog: Gay-themed Book Reviews.)   I try to get my hands on any book that has some connection with gay lives, but to tell the truth, these days it isn’t as easy as in the past.  Big cities used to have at least one gay bookstore (I’m not talking about the adult-video-type bookstore), but many of these have closed in recent years.  Houston’s Hollywood used to have a good section of gay novels and non-fiction, but what they have now is a few shelves of not very current material.  The Barnes and Nobles usually have a few shelves, but the selection there is also hit or miss.  If these large mega-stores have any new gay-themed novels, you might find them mixed in with the regular fiction, but in that case, you have to at least know that the book is out and also know  the name of the author.  These days it’s very hard to find new gay fiction without a lot of hunting, either in a bookstore or online.

Fortunately, the 21st Lambda Literary Foundation Award finalists have just been announced.  I’m not sure how books are nominated for this award, but I’m going to continue looking for some source that gives some listing of new gay books that are being published.  If and when I find a good source, I will definitely post it.

Here are the nominees for Gay Fiction:

  • Stray Dog Winter, David Francis, Mcadam/Cage Publishing
  • The Torturer’s Wife, Thomas Glave, City Light Publishers
  • We Disappear, Scott Heim, HarperCollins
  • The Conversion, Joseph Olshan, St. Martin’s Press
  • The Boomerang Kid, Jay Quinn, Alyson

Check for other GLBT-nominated books here.

I’m going to try to get my hands on at least one of these books very soon; then I’ll add another review to the new category. (Sorry, this post took a left turn or there would be the first review in it already.  That may come later this evening, depending on how far Annie wants to walk after all these past days of rain.)