Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review -- What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson

Even though I'm a grown-up, I love teen fiction.  They are usually quick easy reads, but present fresh voices and viewpoints on current topics.  What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson is no different.  I'm sure I put this book on my "to read" list  because it was a teen fiction book with a gay theme.  However, when I picked it up at the library, I had honestly forgotten what it was about and why I had gotten it.  The book is written by two narrators, James and Alex, who are brothers and high school students.  James is a senior and waiting for a college acceptance letter to Duke, and Alex is a junior who recently drank Pine-Sol at a party (a suicide attempt?) and has now lost all his friends and withdrawn from everyone.  The book deals with Alex's coming out to himself and later to James, and the role that James' friend Nathen plays in it.  There are other subplots, such as James's relationships with girls and friends, and a strange boy that lives across the street whose history is somewhat of a mystery.  The book was kind of a combination of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I reviewed here) and Boy Meets Boy (which I haven't reviewed but is a very good book) by focusing on a social-misfit kid with a (spoiler alert from here on out) fairy-tale ending.

This book was very realistic (in the things Alex had to deal with as a (suspected) gay teen, and the way people reacted to him) but, for me, at least, was a fantasy as well.  I loved (and was jealous of, at the same time) the relationship between Nathen and Alex -- how Nathen took Alex under his wing, saw what he was good at, built on his strengths, and encouraged him to be the best person he could.  I love how Alex found Nathen at just the right time, when he needed someone the most, and thrived with his support.  It made me long to find my Nathen -- someone who genuinely cares about me as a person and makes me want to be better.  It also made me long to be someone else's Nathen -- find someone that truly needs me and that I can help grow and thrive.  So far, guys like that don't exist.

This is not a work of great literature or a deep analysis of what it means to be gay. The writing is not outstanding (in fact, the third-person present-tense gets annoying sometimes) and it's not going to be at the top of the list of good gay teen fiction.  But the characters were well-developed and I felt drawn to Alex, Nathen, James, and the other minor characters.  Oh, and the shower scene was definitely hot!  It is a good story and I want to see more of these characters...not all the loose ends were tied up, and I want to see what happens when Alex comes out to his parents and how he deals with Nathen going away to college. I recommend this book as a quick entertainment read.


ControllerOne said...

Nice review. Read it about a year ago. Loved it. I too want to know what happened to Alex and Nathan. Do they live happily ever after? I believe this was the author's first work. Nice start for him.

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