The Insiders, by Mark Oshiro

I still have a backlog of review to write for many excellent books read for this year's Cybils Awards; there were so many good ones that I read last fall but the reading was more important back than then the reviewing....and so this evening I offer The Insiders, by Mark Oshiro (September 2021, HarperCollins), is an affirmative portal fantasy that was pretty much a read-in-a-single-sitting for me.

Hector's family has moved to a new town from San Francisco, where he was happy and confident as a gay Mexican American theatre kid, with a tight group of friends and a taste for style and thrifting. Things go badly for him at his new school, when he's targeted by a truly cruel boy, Mike, and his crew of bullying lackies.  The school staff are no help, refusing to believe Mike is a problem.  Miserable and desperate to escape his tormentor, Hector finds a door in the school hallway that opens into a room that shouldn't be there.  It is retreat designed just for him, and though no time passes when he's inside, when the door opens again, the hallway is empty.

Soon he finds that two other kids, from schools in different states, have also found the room.  One is girl whose principal is about to tell her mother she is gay, the other a lonely non-binary kid. They too need an escape place, and the three become supportive friends.  But the room, though magical, is still a room, and Hector must come up with his own plan for exposing Mike and getting justice.

I have to say that the bullying part is hard reading.  It hurts to see Hector being treated so badly, and becoming sad and diminished, and this might well be painful reading for kids, especially gay kids, in similar circumstances (I am glad that although Mike's reasons for being such a homophobic monster are hinted at, we aren't given a redemption arc for him--that would have been too much to swallow).  The magical room part, and the friendships he builds both there, and, with a bit more effort, with other "misfit" kids at his own school, though, makes for warm and friendly reading.  And it's lovely to see Hector's supportive family (and maybe it's shallow of me, but I also appreciated the delicious Mexican food that was eaten along the way....)

It's great that a very gay magical-portal fantasy is out there in the world, and I hope that the kids (straight and queer) who need it find it, even if they can't get into the wonderful room.

disclaimer--review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Awards purposes.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this book as well. And I think it's an important book for young people to read. I hope it is widely read. Thanks for g your thoughts.


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