Meaghan Brothers–Debbie Harry Sings In French

The What: Johnny hasn’t had an easy time of it. His dad was rarely around, and before Johnny turned fourteen, he died. Then his mom fell into grief, and couldn’t take care of the house. Johnny took over, and to deal with the pain, he turned to drinking. Once his mom recovered, she found that he was someone she couldn’t stand to live with. She sent him to live with his uncle in South Carolina, where he finds homophobia, a wicked-good record store, and a girl named Maria who’s just as passionate and troubled as he is.

The Good: I’m a little swoony-in-love with this book. Johnny discovers who he is without undue angst, and with great humor and patience. He finds the supportive Maria, who’s a well-done character in her own right. The relationships between friends, family, and lovers resound with authenticity. And the music! So good! I was a little surprised that Morrissey never made an appearance, but I’m probably revealing a big ol’ musical ignorance by saying that (“Blondie fans, listen to Morrissey? Please!”) The book questions gender and the labels that we assign GLBTQ people without bonking the reader over the head–this book is no polemic. Woo!

The Meh: I couldn’t decide whether the ending (don’t wanna ruin it for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading this book yet) was sweet and warm and full of identity reclamation, or if it was so sweet that it made me throw up in my mouth a little. Also, I had trouble keeping track of some of the very minor characters, especially Johnny’s friends from before the move. And “transvestite?” Really? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure we left that behind with Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “Rocky Horror.” I thought these days, folks went with “cross-dresser.”

Hand It To: guys who aren’t afraid of their feminine side, girls and guys who aren’t afraid of said guys, and anyone who’s down with difference.