Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend

Tips on Having a Gay(ex)Boyfriend, by Carrie Jones (2007, 278 pages).

It comes as no surprise to the reader that a few pages into Tips on Having a Gay (Ex)Boyfriend, Belle's boyfriend Dylan isn't anymore. Common enough subject matter for a young adult book. But it is a surprise to Belle that he is gay--that the loving and intimate relationship* they had, and her picture of herself, must now be questioned, doubted, and reimagined.

The book describes the week that happens next. The author has a lot to work with--the loyalty of friends, the trickiness of memory, the cruelty that can lurk inside ordinary people, the fear of being different, the fear of seeing someone you love hurt (physically), the fear of being hurt yourself, etc. Carrie Jones manages to keep all these balls in the air and not let them get in the way of what, to me, felt like the main story -- Belle falling in love again, with Tom, one of the hottest guys I've ever met in a fictional high school. It is not that Jones diminishes the importance of the big issues dealt with in the book, but that she is able to let Belle, and to a lesser extent Dylan and other characters, be people, not Issues on Legs.

This book is written in the first person present, not generally my favorite. In part this is because I often can't remember the name of the main character after I finish the book. And the present tense often grates on my introverted ears, because it assumes that the reader is right there along with the characters ("we drive along the highway"), and unless I am deeply engrossed in a book, I'm not driving anywhere with these people. (aside--do other introverts distrust the forced intimacy of 1st person present?)

Not a problem in this case. Jones is so very good at using input from all five senses that Belle becomes a person for whom I can suspend my disbelief. I think it also helps that the book only takes a week (their time). So there is time for the writer to create for Belle the details and nuances and flickerings of different feelings that real people experience, without having to say, "A month later, there I was, dramatically changed."

Belle isn't, in fact, dramatically changed. She's a bit sadder, a bit wiser, but still a sweet idealist. I hope that she and Tom have a lovely relationship in the coming year, and that they get into the same colleges. And I hope that Dylan and his boyfriend have a nice year together too--I can't imagine them having a longer future together than that...but I can imagine other futures, with other boys, for Dylan.

Which just goes to show how real these people seemed to me, for crying out loud.

*viz the sexual content--not quite as explicit as in Judy Blume's Forever, but strong stuff. My eyebrows rose.

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