Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend -- a brief review

Okay, here's the thing: Carrie Jones is my friend. As in, when I talk to other people, I say things like "I'm so excited that I'm going to see my friend Carrie at the NE SCBWI conference in about two weeks." Or "My friend Carrie's book came out the other day." Or "Excuse me, bookseller. Do you have my friend Carrie Jones's book, Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend?" And so you know, when I say that title aloud, I make "air parentheses" around the "ex" part.

And here's the next thing: I love Carrie's book. But not because Carrie is my friend. Take that, Roger Sutton (whom I happen to admire greatly despite his rather jaded view of bloggers reviewing books, interviewing authors, etc.) In fact, when I first got the ARC of Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend, I was vaguely nauseated at the thought of reading it. Because, you see, Carrie Jones is my friend. And this is her first book. And so it's extra important to her, and I know that, and I want her to be successful, but part of me was thinking what if it isn't very good? And really, I think that part of me was just being empathetic with Carrie's own worries on the very same subject.

I approached the book like I would any other. I looked at the cover -- cool, collage-like cover. What's with the duct tape? I thought. (That question is answered inside the book.) I looked at the back cover (after all, it was in paperback, so there wasn't any flap copy to see). Kathi Appelt and Tim Wynne-Jones both liked it -- there're blurbs. And then I read the excerpt, which at the time I liked, but having read the book, I don't think it does the book justice. And now that I said that, I'll have to share the copy and later on, explain myself.

"It isn't every day that my entire world falls apart."

Is it fair to be mad, mad, mad at your boyfriend for being gay? Anything but straight in small town Maine won't exactly be a walk in the park, even for invincible Dylan. Can't heartbroken Belle whine just a little? What should the Harvest Queen do when dumped by the guy who was supposed to be ger soul mate? For starters, she makes a list on how to deal.

By the way -- not only Carrie's website, but also the Class of 2k7's, was on the back of the book. Clever marketing, I think.

Then I read the note to me from "The Flux Crew", explaining why they put this book out and talking about how great they think Carrie is (must check to see if that's in the actual book, or just in the ARC!), and then I read the first few pages, and completely relaxed. Carrie's authorial voice is so assured (even when the MC is conflicted and twisty) that I knew I had noting to fear.

Let me share the first "real" paragraph of the book, and I think the writer types among you will see what I mean:

We walk outside first. We walk outside beneath the October stars and hold hands in the cold, cold air. The dim light from neighbor's windows wishes us well. No cars drive by because there aren't that many people in Eastbrook, Maine driving around at eleven, a sad fact but true.

The repetition of cold in the second sentence is echoed throughout the rest of the scene, and serves as a reminder of the coldness creeping into Belle's life as her perfect boyfriend unravels their relationship -- the relationship that started in 8th grade. The "ever-after" kind of relationship that first love brings.

The book takes place in the span of a single week. On Saturday night, Dylan breaks the news (and Belle's heart). On Sunday, Belle and her best friend Emily (Em) talk it over. By Monday, word of Dylan's sexual preference is all over this small Maine town, and by midweek, Dylan's being threatened and Belle is being bullied because her exboyfriend turned out to be gay -- she's called a "fag hag", among other things. But along the way, Belle receives steady support from Em and from Tom Tanner, yummy soccer star and son of the police chief. And Belle learns that saintly Dylan wasn't so saintly after all (which is where my personal dissonance with the backcopy comes from) and that most people are essentially good (including some of the adults in the book -- most notably her science and German teachers). The novel concludes on the following Friday night at a school dance.

If you remember my Tips on Why You Should Add Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend to your must-buy list, or the interview I did with Carrie for The Edge of the Forest, then you already know some of the other stuff in the novel. Like that Belle has a seizure disorder, and lives in constant fear of having a seizure at school. And that Belle and Em run the school's Amnesty International chapter. And that Dylan and another boy get picked on for being gay, and that Belle gets picked on because Dylan turned out to be gay.

The actual story is about how Belle gets her heart broken and her eyes opened and finds hope and love, all within a week's time. The REAL story, which is never once preached, is how people with seizure disorders are normal folks who have to cope with prejudice, how people who are homosexual are still marginalized and/or threatened in our society, and how teens who come out need support and love, and (surprisingly), about the degradation of constitutional rights in the United States due to the so-called Patriot Act and other decisions by the administration. And the thing is, you're never told to come to any particular conclusions. It's just that, knowing the characters as you do, those conclusions are obvious. As plain as the chapped red nose on my face (I have a cold and allergies -- must buy Puffs with lotion!)

This one is my pick to win the Schneider Family Book Award in the teen category for next year. I'll be tuning in to the ALA announcements as I always do, and hoping to hear that my friend Carrie Jones won an award. Maybe even two.


kris said...

What an excellent review (even for a blogger!). This sounds like a very interesting read; I'll have to ask for it, though I won't be able to call the author my friend. I've been reading great things about the NE SCBWI conference and am slightly jealous that I don't have such an active SCBWI group here.

Kelly Fineman said...

Kris -- it really was fabulous. Excellent writing, excellent story lines, marvelous themes.

And, as it turns out, a wee bit of controversy, since at least a few independent bookstores won't carry it because the word "gay" is in the title. All the more reason to support the book, in my opinion.