I like the rain. I want to have a spring bookworming rain party full out with wellies—but not those Hunter Boots; absolutely not—, with yummy airy things like puffed pastries, meringues, mini fluffy cheese cakes, mousse dessert, macaroon, biscuits, crepe, and Earl Grey tea, definitely Earl Grey tea. and Tillandsia. We'd have lots of "air plants". Lots! And We'd read, but not anything structured. We'd bring books, trade books, read out-loud, pass books around between sentences and paragraphs. We'd leave with books we hadn't discovered.
I like books like I like my Jazz; euphoric, dangerous, occasionally a bit manic, sorrowful, bleak, raging, mood-incongruent, mournful, unforgivingly ragged, symbolic in a quiet way, warm apple pie for the soul. Give me a Plath style. Yōko Ogawa, M. Roach,
Criteria: Not rated on likability of characters. Not objective. I like Moxie Soda; chances are you don't.
time spent in that before bed reading slot:
5-until blurry eye 4-Later than I intended, but I still kept to my extended, extended reading time 3-I really should have been to bed an hour ago 2-customary 30 minutes. 1-book. side table. eyes closed.
How are common themes handled?
5-With an aesthetic that repurposes everyday themes into something fresh. Think of Hole Celebrity Skin covered by Cat Power 4-there is a comfortable air of familiarly.
3-Deja Vu 2. No deviation from its mates 1. Devastatingly trite, redundant, and stale.
Where would you keep it post-reading?
5-Next to my bed. 4-it's the center piece of my favorite bookshelf 3. On my other favorite bookshelf, but it's a bit dusty over their 2-Great cheap bookends 1-It never made it out of the box marked 'moving'.
5- Where is my teddy bear? Emotional-hangover 4- If I wasn't so emotionally stunted I'd cry. 3. Did James Cameron co-wrote this? Artfully contrived. 2- calculative emotional manipulation. This was literally written by James Cameron.1- I…feel…..nothing.
Mechanics (plot structure, voice, presentation, word choice, sentence structure, characters, writing style, pacing, and consistency):
5-Chanel 4-Prada 3-J-Crew 2-Gap 1-Old Navy
Spoiler-ish note: the following discusses what happens to Rafe and Ben.
As a middle schooler Rafe was out to his family, friends, and the entire community. His mother, stereotypically overbearing and insanely well adjusted to her son’s sexuality, Boudia-ed off her old life and into the life of a gay parent. Equally annoying—annoying because it stereotyped the type of man who accepts his son’s homosexuality—was his father, a man in-touch with his feelings, overly zealous with recording movies on his cell phone, was a walking advertisement for a sedative. His best friend, Claire-Olivia (because we just needed an annoying name), is supportive, but also very much centered on her own life. There is a very stereotypical, feminine gay, because, well contrast.
That was the life in Boulder, a life Raff left behind to attend a pre-school. He didn’t do this to advance his intellectual prowess. Oh no, he did it because he was fed up with his sexuality dictating his life. In Boulder people first and foremost identified him as gay, with all his other virtues and strengths secondary. He was a principle actor in the development of the community’s constricted vision of himself, and while Rafe fell to the pressure of his parents to out himself completely and participate in gay themed lectures, he was clearly adept at practicing self-agencies and self-determination.
Secret Agent Straight was thrust into the world of an all male, and mostly straight, cohort, and was further imbedded into the jock scene. He assimilated quite well into this new role, and the novel doesn’t refrain from reinforcing his Secret Agent Straight status as being casual to his new affinity for sports, as well as his peers’ level of acceptance. Take home…. while in Boulder, gayness was a principle attribute in his exclusion from ‘being one of the guys’.
Zoom forward with parties, drunkenness, awkwardness with a stereotypically weird and effeminate gay to contrast sharply with his otherwise Chameleon sexuality, dorks, lots of slut-shamming, various instances of homophobia and dangerously vapid discussions of it, some unexpected friends, and Secret Agent Straight all comfortable in his new factitious self.
Pause in your zooming…… Secret Agent Straight find himself at the cusp of a budding male-bonding experience, the likes he never, according to him, would be able to have as a self identifying gay dude. Of course Ben, who sounds utterly adorable, yet a bit bottom heavy, was difficult to gauge earlier on in the book. I guess we needed that tension. But Ben loosens up as they romp among the unthinkable. Ben’s character develops clearer as the story progresses, and we find him to be a traitor to a childhood steeped in rigid conformity and all things republican. He is a lovable teddy bear and his interactions with Rafe were sooooo reminiscent of Ben and Tim in Something like Summer/Winter.
There relationship blooms into something—if not tragically trite and expected. Both are left to navigate a situation that is uncomfortable. And duh, Secret Agent Straight feels incredibly guilty. Guilt swarms as he recognizes his actions and behavior have had a ripple effect on most, if not all of the systems of his life.
I had my reservations when reading the blurb. I questioned whether this would be a successful look at a world flooded with heterosexual stereotypes and hypocrisies— metrosexual and bromance come to mine—, but I also wondered, ‘could and would this book become a vehicle for deconstructing, analyzing, and opening the door for dialog of all of the above?’. I was also fearful that it would sensationalize, that it would monopolize on some very challenging and contentious issues and that it would preach a position. Unfortunately at the conclusion of this book I realized that the latter was true. At face value this book offered a new and novel approach to the all to familiar gay coming of age book. However, peering deeper within the narrative and overall context revealed a few things that I found troubling.
One of the clearest offenses was the loving and accepting family. Now, I realize these family units do exist (mine is), however I feel strongly that they engulf YA gay coming of age novels. I think this is a disservice to teenagers challenged by their sexual identify. It was further troubling to see the author construct a plot that had Rafe’s query of his own sexuality and the meaning of it, and all his support systems railing against Rafe. This is a huge double standard. At one point his family is ubber supportive, and then, when it doesn’t fit their specific needs or perceptions of sexuality, they fortify against him. Either way they are applying their lens to a very personal and individual thing. I was aghast. What does this tell young adults who are having a difficult time understanding their own sexuality and navigating the ways their family and friends may or are reacting to it? What does this reinforce for the child that has been ostracized for coming out? What does this tell a child who feels isolated and seeks out novels like this one for answers, only to find that maybe there aren’t people that will accept him if he doesn’t mend his sexual identity to their standards?
Then we have another author subjecting his readers to the notion that being gay is an ugly, jagged collection of failures, fractured hopes, and a life of conformity (I’ll get into this sucker later!). Of course at the center of this novel is a relationship, what would a coming of age novel be without one? In this case we have Secret Agent Straight and Ben. Their relationship is inevitably hindered and restricted by Rafe’s hidden sexuality. Rafe find himself cornered by the life he created, unable to completely venture into a genuine intimate relationship. Yet, Rafe does find a semblance of one, and that is a hell of a lot better than forcing himself to endure sexual activity with people that neither deserved nor understood him. I question, again, what this tells a YA who is lonely and desperate for touch, intimacy, and a partner. What do you put up with? Being in a relationship that doesn’t fulfill you because you know you deserve more? Or being in a relationship that gives you some of the things you deserve, but because you are pretending to be someone you aren’t, you don’t get the whole apple pie? Hmmmm, which sounds worse? <spoiler> This is made even worse cause he doesn’t find anyone. </spoiler>.
Beyond the inescapable realization that Rafe’s dating life provided him something of substance when he was closeted—mind you an attribute that disgusted him when he was out—, we have that fucking concept that life will never be fulfilling, peaceful, and that the fear of being lonely or ostracized will never abate. Again, what the fuck are we telling teenagers when we illustrate this time and time again in books? <spoiler> Like other novels, at the end, Secret Agent Straight was left regurgitate his past. </spoiler>. Oh but wait, he learned something about himself from his relationship with Ben, like every other book with a similar climax. Yet, what exactly did he learn? Because it was so freaking illusive, that when splatter painted on the wall of other gay coming of age novels, and from affair, it is really difficult to see the subtle nuances.
But, mostly, I felt saddened that it rejected its own premise. I assumed that it was attempting to decode the nature of labels, and that its final goal was to establish that one can have many different lenses. Unfortunately, once his life ruptured he was thrust back into his former existence. There were some philosophical discussions on the differences of self, specifically how he perceives himself in relation to others, but these were scant, and I felt rushed and under-developed. He left a life of a prominent label, being gay, and with it a life of stereotypes and forced ideology, and entered a life where he found love, comradery, and acceptance. Now, the argument will be that he ended up understanding that the foundation of those changes was false and he further felt that he betrayed himself, however, isn’t there a way he could have maintained some of these while also believing in himself and being happy? The problem is it ignores its own objective, that one can have multiple lenses and, through integrating them, be other than one’s sexuality. I get it, he learned that his former self wasn’t that bad, and in extracting some of Secret Agent Straight’s life, developed into this more self-enlightened individual, but I didn’t think this transformation varied from his original self, at least not by much.
The scenario is troubling, specifically where stereotypes weren’t completely dismantled. Sports, an area that is plagued by homophobia, are the most prominent example. In Boulder Rafe felt anchored to a position of separate but equal. In MA, absent of the confines of his sexuality, he was easily accepted into this world. Bill really needs to have a sit down with Mr. Scarborough—I’d mock this more, but it was simply just a huge cop out to developing Rafe—because there is some serious meaning behind this message that requires some heavy probing.
In the same vein there were additional troubling remarks made about masculinity. One of the larger was, “I hadn’t understood that desire in you, the desire to do those sort of boy things. I don’t know how I missed that”. My mouthed dropped as I felt the implications. It tied masculinity to being straight, and the exclusion of masculinity as an attribute of being gay. It also reinforced the deeply imbedded notion that some sports are gender specific. I felt that it also quite clearly implicated gays as girls, rather than boys. Likewise, with little discussion of the stereotypes that gays aren’t as able to participate in sports, it more than anything reinforced that Secret Agent Straight found the antidote to all these things; forfeiting one’s expression of his sexual identity. Ultimately it was a loss for an opportunity to explore these things in a way that was meaningful and constructive.
We also had Rafe ignoring the all too familiar narrative that all homos are horny and want to fuck all straight people. Let me clear this up for you, we are, and we don’t. In not commenting when Steve said, “ I mean, we would have to figure out some other shower arrangement”, to which Rafe thinks, “I wanted to say: No, I don’t know. Not every guy wants to go to bed with you”, the author just really applied some sheet-rock to those perceptions. What a total fucking failure by the author. Lets not even talk about how it negates one’s ability to confront stereotypes.
Overall it was well written, and the Ben and Rafe portions were so cuddly and adorable. It had some issues where it ignored sex, rather than exploring it tastefully. The addition of Mr. Scarborough caused pacing issues, seemed rather random, and was a cop-out to developing Rafe. But mostly I was left with a Rafe that was caught between embracing his sexuality in a manner he felt was his own and still relishing in the cold hard fact that Secret Agent Straight had it every so slightly good, minus having to jeopardize his integrity. This made me sad.