Tag Archives: young adult

Wallaconia – David Pratt (Beautiful Dreamers Press)

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Please look at the cover to the left and note the cedilla, which WordPress cannot accommodate, in the title. The somewhat exotic pronunciation of the pictured Massachusetts salt marsh makes the location sound like an independent and separate country populated by its namesake, one Jim Wallace, the protagonist of David Pratt’s (Bob the Book, Looking After Joey) latest novel.

On the verge of turning eighteen, Jim Wallace is looking forward to losing his virginity to longtime girlfriend Liz, hoping this will somehow “fix” him. Before those repairs can be completed, however, Jim finds himself helping neighbor Pat Baxter out in Baxter’s bookstore. In addition to finding an unexpected friend and ally in out and proud Baxter, Wallace also encounters a fellow student he bullied years ago, who had left the area and returned to visit, helping Pat in the bookstore as well. Jim faces the choice between living his truth or not.

I suppose because of the age of its protagonist, this needs to be labeled and marketed as a “young adult” book. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld points out, that there’s anything wrong with that. The realities of the marketplace are what they are, but I hope that won’t prevent other audiences from picking this up because it has lessons and observations germane to other age groups. A coming out story? Well, that’s part of it–but the book runs deeper than that.

The relationship between Pat and Jim is interesting, even idyllic–an essential component of the imagined country in which Jim lives. Not every gay man finds a mentor so willing or generous with his time and insights. Equally as serendipitous is the outcome of his meeting up with Nate Flederbaum, the boy Jim had previously bullied for being gay. I can’t say more without being a spoiler, but lessons are learned all around and all is forgiven. Even Jim’s parents take the news with little heartbreak. The one exception to this is Jim’s girlfriend, Liz.

Having given her virginity to Jim, she has more than a small stake in their burgeoning relationship. She endures his confession with more restraint than may seem reasonable to some, but she’s clearly devastated. And while they gamely try to remain friends, both know it’s useless. Her reactions are emotional but not as histrionic as I’d imagine. Less than idyllic, maybe, but still an easier row to hoe than not. Which leads me to wonder if this version of Jim’s coming out may be part of Wallaconia itself, an imagined outcome masking a not-so-perfect emergence.

Okay, okay–way meta, right?

I’m reading far too much into it, and I’ve got no time to go back and re-read for something that may or may not be there, but the more I think about the book, I wonder if the cracks between Wallaconia and a harsher reality might not be a bit more apparent the second time around. Something to consider as you read. Because you should read this book. I’ve enjoyed Pratt’s work ever since I came across Bob the Book, and I’ve never been disappointed once in his characters or his well-turned prose. And I wouldn’t put it past him to sneak some sort of meta-metaphor in a “young adult” coming out story.

That’s just the kind of author he is.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Dysfunction – LA Fields (Queer Mojo)

dys. coverBuy from Rebel Satori Press

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Sequels are interesting animals. They need to be aware enough to borrow from their predecessors and different enough to stand alone, yet some authors seem to lose track of the voice–the most essential ingredient in transferring the reader from one book to the next. Not so with LA Fields, who brings back troubled Marley and his equally troubled boyfriend Jesse in Dysfunction, her sequel to Maladaptation and doesn’t miss a beat with either the voice or the characters.

Having escaped from Loweville, Colorado where they were both exiled, eighteen-year-old Jesse and sixteen-year-old Marley decide to go to Marley’s home town in Florida. They are taken in by Kenny, an auto mechanic who lets them live at an apartment in the garage, and his wife Marianne. Jesse takes a job with Kenny, and Marley finds employment at a bookstore. The temptation to see his family is too great for Marley to resist, and he eventually finds himself again entwined with his abusive father, his distant mother and his sisters. After yet another familial battle, his sister Lindsay leaves. Marianne, the eternal mother, insists Lindsay and Marley move back home. When they do, the titular dysfunction really starts to show, leading to ugly decisions and bad choices for everyone.

As with Maladaptation, these characters–especially Jesse and Marley–have an astonishing verisimilitude. This is definitely Fields’s world, and she makes the most of her observations, capturing the broader picture of how these boys feel as well as their angst-ridden nuances. Their relationship is quirky and maybe even a little abusive, but she spares the reader no part of it. Still, at the core, you know Jesse really loves Marley. As much as he can, at least.

But Fields has equal facility with adults. Her portrayal of Marley’s abusive father, Jacob, is nearly as deft as those of the boys. She successfully points the way to the pressures and internal conflicts that fuel Jacob’s rage. His mother is less interesting, but she holds the house together as best she can. Every pistol needs a holster as well as a target. Although not comic relief, garage owner Kenny is a pleasantly welcome diversion from everyone else’s drama. The scenes Kenny commands really provide a respite and a place to breathe. Not so his wife, however, whose meddling precipitates some very real consequences.

Due to the age of the main characters, Dysfunction will probably find a home on the YA shelves, which is a disservice to the book in a way. Fields’s adults are every bit as complex and interesting as Jesse and Marley, which is something you rarely see in that genre. It’s a wonderful, deeply moving novel for any age, and I fervently hope it’s successful enough to warrant a third book in what Fields calls the “Disorder series.”

And don’t forget to catch us on Thursday of this week when I will be posting an interview with LA Fields about not only the Disorder series, but her marvelous Sherlock Holmes pastiche, My Dear Watson.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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