Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Last Exit to Normal

Michael Harmon, March 2008. Ben is fourteen when his mom walks out after his father announces that he's gay. Ben goes downhill from there: "I took my first hit from a bong two weeks after my mom left. I got plastered at a kegger a week later, dropped a tab of acid the next month, and got busted for defacing public property three days after that. I was on a roll, and I was just getting going." After a couple of years of this behavior, including Ben's arrest for driving the escape car after his friends steal beer from a store, Ben and his dads move to eastern Montana. The idea is that country life will save Ben from the "negative influence" he's getting in the city.

Rough Butte, Montana, is quite different from what Ben is used to...not least because of his uber-strict step-grandmother, who hits him with a wooden spoon whenever he swears - including words like "crap" that he's used to thinking of as pretty innocuous. But the real problem is their next-door neighbor, Mr. Hinks, who makes no secret of his homophobia, but does a better job of hiding his abuse of his eleven-year-old son. Ben takes on these problems and a full-time schedule of farmwork while also pursuing The Girl. These events, and the humor and warmth with which they're told, make for a compelling, fast-paced novel that doesn't skimp on character development and has less gay content than it appears at first. Recommended as a fish-out-of-water story, a coming-of-age tale, and of course, a book about how to deal (and how not to deal) with a gay parent.

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