‘Honestly Ben’ by Bill Konigsberg is the sequel to ‘Openly Straight’ and I kind of wish I had brushed up on that book before starting this because the novel starts just right after where that book ended. But I remember enough about the characters that I quickly got into their story. The narration also changes to Ben’s point of view and I like his voice better – more mature, and in a lot of ways he know more about himself. But there’s some irony to that, though, cause in here he finds himself in conflicting emotions about who he has fallen for, for he meets Hannah, and he finds that he is attracted to her as well. He decides that he is straight, but in love with one boy – Rafe.
I found the book enjoyable, and Ben is irresistible, though there are times when I wanted to shout at him for always doing the right thing. Seriously, his honesty is to blame for a lot of the conflicts here. And I don’t know why, but I found myself rooting for Hannah too. But the end is a good payoff, and we know a lot more about these characters – and ourselves – by the end of the book.
‘Payback’ by John Inman is a very engrossing story, and touches up[on some very important issues: homophobia, gun violence, even immigration. But I foudn it very hard to get past some of the stupid choices the main character makes. The story revolves mostly around grief, and how it affects us in different ways. But I guess it is my own prejudice that hinders me from accepting what Tyler, the main character, does to deal with grief, and in particular how he deals with thought of revenge. But Inman’s book is never boring, I gotta give him that – you will be riveted from the first page to the last. Some things don’t really make sense, but I charge it to good storytelling.
‘Educating Simon’ by Robin Reardon is a book that got to me – to the core. It is a story of Simon, a teenager living in England, on his way to Oxford University. But his mother meets an American, and this whirlwind affair has them relocating her and Simon to Boston. Of course, Simon gets upset. I know a lot of readers have said that in this initial part of the novel, they found Simon unlikable. But for me, I sort of understood. Yes, there is a feeling that he seems to be entitled, but I kind of got where he was coming from, especially since he found that he was being lied to. he then comes to Boston, and obviously, life has changed. Life is different, but in here he starts to blossom as a young gay man, meeting suitors, getting his heart broken, even breaking someone’s heart.
Usually when I read a book, I want to go through it quick, especially when I am so engrossed by the story. but here, I found myself stopping, reflecting on what has happened. In a lot of ways, I felt a little envious of his life – how everything is still new, and he has the whole world to discover. I found myself reflecting on my life a bit, oh hell, a lot. This book isn’t perfect. I felt that sometimes too much is going in his life, events are getting overwhelming even for the reader. But this book always kept me involved, and more importantly, always kept me reacting, and making me think about life…and love.
I remember, years ago, I read André Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and was so touched by it. I started recommending it to everyone, and to this day, mention it as one of my favorite books of all time. Now he has written another book that I love, titled ‘Enigma Variations.’ The book consists of five novellas, all exploring the loves of one man : Paolo, Paul, Pauly. They come at different stages of his life, with different loves of both genders. My favorite is the opener, ‘First Love,’ wherein a twenty two year old Paolo goes back to the Italian island where he spent his summers as a young boy, and where also he first fell in love with his mother’s carpenter. As he tries to find this gentleman, he finds out discoveries about his family and specifically his father. This is a story of an awakening, of a young man accepting terms from his first infatuation. Aciman writes with such intimacy and frankness that we cannot help but see ourselves in this characters. Years later we see Paul in ‘Spring Fever,’ when he suspects the woman he is dating is having an affair, only to realize things are not always what it seems. Here Aciman’s tone is serious but becomes playful, and I loved the way Paul interacts with different characters in the book. ‘Star Love’ finds Paul dissecting his years-long friendship and courtship with Chloe, and while I found their relationship interesting as it crosses and tests the gray areas, I found this part a little tedious. ‘Manfred’ is about obsession – about how we change and move our lives because of another, how we analyze instead of do, and how unexpected sometimes life can be. I found this novella fascinating, its frank sexuality talk immensely powerful in conveying that feeling of wanting, the senation of deep desire, and its payoff. I wouldn’t say ‘Enigma Variations’ is as good as ‘Call me By Your Name,’ but I know what book I will be recommending to friends this year.
Since ‘The Rise And Fall Of A Theater Geek’ was written by Seth Rudetsky, I guess I was expecting more from it. You know that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Broadway, so I was kind of expecting a little bit of that here. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because this is a young adult novel about a teenager, Justin, who got a two-week internship in New York City. never mind all the pesky details, I was trying to go along for the ride. but Justin has such an obnoxious voice, though, that it was very difficult to like him. Plus. all the characters around him were unlikable and the ‘mystery’ he got embroiled in was a little hard to just accept. But, I really do not want to knock this book off – it has good intentions and really, a young theater geek will probably identify himself in one of these characters. It just wasn’t for me.
We have all had summers that changed our lives, and that is the premise of Karen Hattrup’s ‘Frannie and Tru.’ It’s the summer before Frannie has to change schools because of an economic downgrade in her family, and she finds out her cousin Tru, is arriving from Connecticut. She overhears her parents say that it is because he just came out to his parents and is being shipped to his family so things can cool down. (I mean, what do you expect when you name your child Truman?)
Tru’s character is meant to be complex, and does complicated things but I never thought the character was truly fleshed out as well as Frannie, who is fascinating on her own. And the plot was slow to come, with not enough character study to fill up the space between. There are flashes of great here, but it was slow coming.
Michael Barakiva’s ‘One Man Guy’ is the story of Alek Khederian, a fourteen year old boy in suburban New Jersey of Armenian descent. He has an overbearing mother, and this book is a story of a certain summer when he had to go to school to make up for his grades preventing him to be in the Honors program. It is also the summer he meets Ethan and falls in love. We have all had these ‘transitional’ summers that changed our lives. Barakiva sets the premise nicely, but I couldn’t feel but feel a little disappointed. While I am sure a lot od what is in the book is inspired by life events, it felt a little too trapped in sitcom-type situations. Sure, I appreciated a lot of Armenian history stories that is in the book, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more fully-developed characters. And I don’t really get the title – is it alluding to fidelity or to the fact that it is his first romance? I liked certain elements of the book and related to it. For example, I too, fund a lot about myself getting lost in the streets of New York City, and for sure, it is good to read about another Armenian family with last names starting with K. I just wished the book dug deeper.