Being a gay teenager sucks

Or at least two of Kensington’s new releases would have me believe.  But if they are to be believed, things get better as well.

31. Band Fags! by Frank Anthony Polito (Kensington, June 2008).

32. Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon (Kensington, May 2008).

I’m not quite sure how either of these are classified–they probably belong on the adult side of the store, but they have definite cross-over potential for mature teens.  Band Fags! came to the store because when I saw it in the catalog, I had to ask for a review copy based on the title alone.  And despite the fact that I was not actually alive for the period during which half of it occurs (1982-1988) I still found it hilarious.  The main character spends most of the book coming to terms with being gay, and his best friend figures it out a little sooner, but they both struggle to figure out what that means, and how their lives will be.  There are a lot of exclamation points in this book, but they are used just as effectively as Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (which is to say, they’re endearing!).

Thinking Straight is a little more depressing, because it’s about a teen who is sent to one of those Christian wash-away-the-gay camps.  It felt very realistic to me, although I have no experience in that area; probably because it gave me the creeps.  However, there’s an underground of sorts at the camp that helps narrator Taylor get through it.  One of the things that I liked about the book, despite not being a Christian myself, was that Taylor is not anti-Christian or hateful towards religion.  On the contrary, a lot of the book discusses reasons why Christianity might be wrong to persecute gay people (to the point where parts read as sermons of a sort).

But the curious thing about both books, and a positive thing, I think, is that while both teens are in uncomfortable situations, I didn’t find either depressing.  Brad, in Band Fags!, spends most of the book talking himself out of thinking he’s gay, which can be hard to read.  There’s also some intense scenes in both books, especially Thinking Straight, but I didn’t close either thinking, “Man, that poor kid is going to have an awful life.”  There’s this implicit acknowledgment that even though the world at large is still mean to gay people, things are getting better, and that more and more people are supportive.  Even at a conservative Christian summer program, there are people who aren’t anti-gay–the world must be changing, according to these authors.  Which it is, and I can only hope to the extent that is seen in these two books.  To that end, even though the writing is not always spectacular in either of them, I would recommend either on the basis of attitude and content.  Like I said earlier, they’d be great cross-over books for teens in general and especially gay teens who are working things out for themselves.  And I’d love to hear how those who went to high school in the 80s feel about Band Fags! (And, for that matter, how those who have been to gay-reformation camps feel about Thinking Straight.)


2 comments so far

  1. Frank Anthony Polito on

    Hey, there!

    Thanks SO much for taking the time to read my book, BAND FAGS!, and to help spread the word.

    Yes, being a gay teenager in the 80s did sorta suck, but I’m happy to say things DID get better!

  2. Robin Reardon on

    I, too, would love to see comments about Thinking Straight from anyone who has been subjected to an “ex-gay” (in quotes because I don’t believe it’s real) program. I was inspired to write it because of a real boy who was enrolled in one of the real camps out there (“Straight to God” really is fictional).

    Thanks for reading the book and encouraging others to do so!

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