Friday, March 29, 2013

9 Heart Review: Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club (Russel Middlebrook #1)
Brent Hartinger

Page Count: 226

Release Date: 13 March 2003 (first edition)
Publisher: HarperTempest (HarperCollins Publishers)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Russel Middlebrook is convinced he's the only gay kid at Goodkind High School.

"I knew that any wrong action, however slight, could reveal my true identity..."

Then his online gay chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students, too. There's his best friend Min, who reveals that she is bisexual, and her soccer-playing girlfriend Terese. Then there's Terese's politically active friend, Ike.

But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

"We just choose a club that's so boring, nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!"

Brent Hartinger's debut novel is a fast-paced, funny, and trenchant portrait of contemporary teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.
Buy the book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Sony eStore | Kobo

Review


In the conservative, oppressive town of Goodkind, Russel Middlebrook faces his biggest fear—publicly coming out—as he slowly discovers there are others at his own school, stubbornly questioning and reconciling with their sexualities, just like he is. In this town and in this decade, gay-straight alliances are unheard of—scorned, even—but upon kindling a brotherhood with the diverse group of people who are so different from him, and yet so similar, he learns that sometimes being yourself, no matter how hard, is more important than any reputation, any sort of acceptance, and any lie he'd be living otherwise.

I was so impressed by this children's LGBT novel both because of the controversial topic it daringly confronts, and by the strength and grace with which it is written. Russel's realistic first-person narrative—one of the pioneering gay narrations in YA fiction—is a pleasure to read and captures the horrors and injustices of the high school social scene penetratingly, but in an appropriate, parent-approved fashion. I loved him as a character as well; he's so awkward, nice, and hilarious in an adorable teenage boy way. We need more gay narrators for YA!

I also adore Russel's best friends, Min and Gunnar, because they aren't portrayed as the typical "he's been my BFFL and always has my back no matter what" crap. They're so flawed—so flavored—and that makes them so, so real.

This book is touching, frightening, and compelling in all the right paces. It accurately conveys the fear of learning to cross and even break the invisible, vicious barriers within the high school social ladder, but not explicitly; it leaves just enough to the imagination, which is why I wholeheartedly recommend it to the younger crowd, too.

The unexpected alliance Russel finds within Goodkind High School, the belonging and the assurance, highlights the importance of companionship and honesty of which I think all teenagers still need to be reminded. Even though Geography Club was written over ten years ago, the relationships Hartinger portrays stand the test of time in a poignant, universal story that readers of any age and any sexual orientation will love. In Geography Club, a handful of brave, passionate students stumble upon a connection in which they each can be completely honest with each other, as well as with themselves, for the first time in their young lives. This exchange of feelings and struggles that would otherwise be repressed is both gritty and soulful, and constitutes a brilliant coming-of-age novel.


Pros


Interesting, suspenseful storyline // Cutting humor—I laughed out loud so many times! // Realistic, but still lovable characters // Russel's voice is so accurate // Tackles a sensitive issue fluidly and in a way that will encourage young readers

Cons


Not enough rising action... wish there'd been more drama before the final climax

Love

We bought tickets for the stupid romantic comedy rated PG-13, but once we were inside the multiplex, Kimberly said she wanted to see the stupid erotic thriller rated R instead. As for me, I didn't want to see either the romantic comedy or the erotic thriller. I wanted to see the animated Disney musical, which I guess just proved that I really was the gay boy that I'd been thinking all along that I was.
—LOL this is why I love Russel!

Verdict


Brent Hartinger's inspiring and dazzling debut isn't just a novel about gay adolescents; it touches upon important global teen matters of friendship, identity, and the courage to speak out, as well. I loved everything about it—the characters, the voice, the absorbing plot—and think it's one of those books that all young adult (14-16) and maybe the more-mature middle grade (11-14) readers ought to try Americanflag

9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf (x)