The Russel Middlebrook Series Continues
Last week, I posted about The Geography Club book and movie by Brent Hartinger, and about how much I loved it. Imagine my delight when I discovered that there are now a series of books featuring Russel. So I snatched up the second one in the series: The Order of the Poison Oak and read it in one sitting. Though this book is geared towards Young Adults, I feel that this is a book that anyone can enjoy, regardless of age. As with The Geography Club, I found it an excellent read.
(Geography Club spoilers below)
At the end of the last book, Russel, who just joined the Gay/Straight Alliance group at school, is outed to the entire school. In the beginning of The Order of the Poison Oak, things are not easy for our hero at Robert L. Goodkind High. Told through the perspective of Russel, we learn that he is the brunt of anti-gay slurs, gets his locker defaced on a regular basis and receives anonymous bullying e-mails. In regards to the old “Sticks and Stones adage, he writes:
”..did it ever occur to whoever wrote that stupid adage that hurtful words might be a pretty good indication that stick and stones are on the way?”
When his friend Gunnar asks Russel if he’d be interested in being a counselor at summer camp with him and their friend Min, Russel jumps at the chance. The idea of being somewhere where nobody knows about him sounds pretty good to him. So off they go….
Off to Summer Camp
Russel, Min and Gunnar arrive at Camp Serenity where they’ll be spending the rest of the summer. During an orientation meeting, Russel notices fellow counselor and strikingly handsome Web, who, as Russel describes him, “was much prettier than any postcard.” When the camp director pairs up counselors who will be working together, Russel plans on working it so he’ll be paired up with hunky Web but to his surprise and dismay, his friend Min cuts him off and pairs herself with Web. Later on, an argument ensues as to whether Web is gay or straight? Russel takes this as a challenge. So who gets him? Ah, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Monsters and Hellions and Brats, Oh My
The counselor gig turns out to be much more challenging that Russel had originally thought. The first group of kids who will spend two weeks at camp are disfigured burn survivors and the counselors are given two days of Burn Survivor Sensitivity Training to prepare them. But nothing could prepare Russel for the cabin full of 10-year-old monsters for whom he is to be responsible for the next couple of weeks. They refuse to listen to him and defy him at every opportunity. To make matters worse, it appears it is only Russel who has unruly kids – everyone else’s seem to be fairly well-behaved. Russel finally gains control and the respect of his kids, only to lose it later on through a careless inaction on his part. But he does end up redeeming himself later on through a delightful story he tells the kids and the “secret order” that develops from that story. This was an especially touching and heartfelt section of the book which made me like Russel all the more.
Love on the Rocks…
Russel develops a relationship with someone at camp, only to realize later that it is someone else that he had fallen in love with – he just doesn’t see it at first. Min’s relationship falls apart as well because of Russel’s actions and for a good portion of the book, the two are not on speaking terms. And Gunnar? Well, he decides that he is not going to date anyone at all and declares that he has completely given up on girls. A couple of embarrassing yet comical mishaps (ie. Gunnar tripping on a fish in front of the girl who like him) entrenches his decision even further. Funny that…it seems that love tends to find us especially when we try with all our might to push it away. At one point, things look pretty bleak for Russel, Min and Gunnar. But eventually, it all comes together (well, for most of them).
Learning and Growing
This is one of those books where the reader feels as though he or she is on an emotional roller-coaster – at times I was laughing, at times I teared up; at other times I cringed, while a few times I was angry – all of which indicates a story well told. While Russel certainly does his fair share of screwing up, he also learns and grows throughout the story and is a much different person at the end than he was on Page 1. Through his mistakes, he learns the importance of doing the “right thing” and ends up discovering that we are all special and unique, no matter what our outward appearance or how hard we think we have conformed. I found the characters to be well-developed and for me, they really came to life throughout this book. For me personally, this story brought back fond memories of the many summers that I spent as a 4-H camp counselor. The Order of the Poison Oak contains all of the things that makes a story great: adventure, struggle, friendship, redemption and yes, even romance – and is an exquisite addition to the YA/LGBT genre. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. Recommended!!
I just viewed a fun & wacky indie YA comedy called G.B.F. and I loved it! Unfortunately, this film didn’t receive a lot of press and as such, only played in select theaters. If you wish to see it, you may have purchase or stream it on Amazon.
Jockeying For Position
G.B.F. stands for Gay Best Friend and takes place in a suburban high school. Here we are introduced to three female divas all of whom are battling each other for supremacy of the school. Each one decides that in order to the queen bee, she needs obtain for herself a gay best friend. Not an easy task, considering that there are no out gay students at the high school. But that’s all about to change.
Who’s Out & Who’s Not?
Flamboyant Brent (played by Paul Iacono) is hungering to be popular and sees this as his opportunity for school stardom. But his plan backfires and instead of outing himself, his shy best friend, Tanner (played by Michael J. Willett) ends up being the one who is outed. The three wanna be school queens spend the rest of the movie vying for Tanner’s attention and jump through outrageous hoops to obtain him as her exclusive new GBF.
Stereotypes for Days
The movie pokes fun at many high school stereotypes which some people may or may not find offensive. For instance, the cattiness and vindictiveness of the three young school divas during their quest to have Tanner be their own personal GBF made me think of the sterotypical high school mean girls. The movie also poked fun of those religious folk who do not walk their talk; such as ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen), a mormon who likes to drink and have sex and her mormon boyfriend ‘Topher (Taylor Frey) who has a bad habit of trying to seduce his gay classmates.
In addition to poking fun at stereotypes, the film was rife with witty, fast-paced one-liners and jabs and I found myself roaring with laughter many times throughout the movie. The scene where Brent and his mother (played by Megan Mullally, who played Karen on Will & Grace) watch Brokeback Mountain together was hysterical. At one point, she says in regards to the movie, “Oh Heath, it’s freezing. Swallow your pride and go into the tent. Well, I guess necessity is the mother of invention.”
But it’s Serious, too
While this film certainly can be classified as trite, silly, wacky fun, there is also a serious element to it. This is not simply a story about three stuck-up girls who use a young gay student as a fashion accessory; it is also a tender best-friends love story with an emotional depth that renders it heartfelt. It’s an inspiring film that treats the subject of choosing between popularity and friendship with emotion and humor. This is fast-paced story filled with laugh-a-minute dialog, love, hope, friendship and some angst, that will touch anyone’s heart. And though Tanner and Brent go through some real turmoil, they experience real growth and change – and they come out in the end better people for it.
If you get a chance to see it at your local theater, I recommend you do so (it’s always great to support independent films). It’s a delightful tale of school popularity and friendship that doesn’t disappoint. You can also get it from Amazon HERE. Recommended!!
Happy Friday everyone!
Today’s post is going to consist of a little blatant self-promotion. I am including an excerpt from my latest novel, A Touch of Cedar, a gay-themed time-travel ghost story. In this scene, Marek our hero encounters the ghosts for the first time:
Marek clasped his hands in front of him and glanced down at the table. He observed the scratched, faded wood and recalled that Randy had reminded him just recently that it needed some work. Another thing to add to his ever-growing never-ending to-do list. A slight shiver fluttered up his back. He shook himself and drifted back into his thoughts. He involuntarily smiled as a light aroma of cedar passed through the room and he lost himself in pleasant nostalgia. The smell reminded him of his youth on his father’s farm and all the wonderful summers he had spent there growing up. He and his brother would spend hours climbing the huge cedar tree on the edge of the property. How simple things were back then. He felt an ache in his chest as he thought about how much he missed his father these three long years since he had passed.
He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. Then all at once he snapped to and his eyes flew open. Cedar. It was the same scent he has smelled a couple of weeks earlier upstairs. That odd cologne that was in his room.
The hairs on his arms rose and his skin felt prickly. He glanced down at his arms, intrigued by the strange sensation. He lifted his head and surveyed the room for the source of the odor. He leapt to his feet, walked to the living room and then to the study, sniffing the air as he strode, like a dog with its snout to the wind. The fragrance seemed to follow him and appeared to increase in intensity. Another light shiver tickled his neck and he absentmindedly brushed it away. He made one last defiant entrance into the kitchen where he had first noticed the odor. It was definitely the strongest in here. He sighed loudly, frustrated at not being able to discover the source of the curious smell.
“This is really getting bizarre,” he said out loud. He placed his hands on his hips and silently wished Randy was home. All at once, things seemed to change. His perception of his surroundings became muddled and off-kilter. The kitchen grew brighter and as it did, the smell of cedar intensified. Marek squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then reopened them, his face frozen. He leaned against the wall for support and an even heat rose on his palms. He saw, or rather sensed, a fleeting movement near the kitchen table and snapped his head toward its source. His eyes grew wide and he struggled for breath at what he saw. To the left of the table, standing in front of the window was a most handsome, unknown man. The stranger’s eyes locked to his and Marek’s eyes grew even wider as his gaze fell upon the man’s smooth, youthful face. He was unquestionably a young man, not older than twenty-three or twenty-four, with solid square features, a heavy head of dirty blond hair and a barely perceptible coating of blond razor stubble glazing his two ruddy cheeks. His light blue eyes flickered as they studied Marek’s face. He was dressed in what could be best described as one’s “Sunday Best” — a black suit coat, whose sleeves appeared to be a little short for the man’s lengthy arms, a vest with a shiny silver chain leading into one of the pockets and a pair of dark but somewhat wrinkly trousers. The cut and style of the man’s clothes seemed to be dated which made the man appears as if he had just stepped out of an old time photograph, although the clothing itself appeared to be new and well taken care off.
Marek drew an urgent breath. “Who are you?”
The stunning stranger did not respond. The smell of cedar was almost overwhelming now and Marek’s head pounded as a result. It was then that he detected — no, actually felt — a cloud of sadness shading the young man’s expression. The man’s grief seemed to swell in the room and settle even over Marek himself. He felt the weight of the man’s sorrow pull at his own chest and solar plexus. Involuntarily, he found himself almost at the point of tears, not knowing why.
He had no idea how long he stood in place watching the stranger watch him. Time seemed to have stopped with Marek unable to move. A thicket of jumbled thoughts swirled in his brain as Marek and the man continued their stare-down. Marek finally found the strength to speak again.
“How did you get in here?” His voice cracked and sounded feeble.
“What do you want?”
The young man’s face then broke into a weak, almost forced smile and he nodded reverently to Marek. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers, the action being carried out so gradually that it seemed as if the entire scene were taking place in slow motion. He broke Marek’s gaze and glanced around the room. A look of surprise then displayed on the man’s face as he began to fade into nothingness. Marek watched wide-eyed as the man in front of him became more and more transparent, the stunned expression still stamped on his face as if he hadn’t expected to begin disappearing. The man’s body then softened, along with his expression, and within moments, resembled nothing more than a light mist. Then, he was gone.
Marek’s hands shook wildly and his heart hammered so hard in his chest that he feared going into cardiac arrest. His shaky legs were barely able to carry him over to the kitchen table. Still gasping, he waved his arm in the air where the man had just been standing. He could feel icy coldness and a prickly energy where the man had stood. A pins-and-needles sensation flowed up his arm. He rapidly jiggled it, trying to shake off the sudden numbness. He then noticed that the smell of cedar had completely disappeared.
He secured both of his trembling hands on the table and settled down on the cold wooden chair. He sucked in a breath through his parched mouth and applied more pressure to the table in an attempt to stop his hands from shaking. His head pounded dully and his knuckles turned white from the pressure he was applying to the table. Realizing this, he wrung his hands together, still fixing his gaze on the location where the eerie man had stood.
His thoughts hammered his brain as he tried to figure out what in the hell he had just witnessed. The image of that striking man floated before his eyes. He laid his head in his hands and squeezed. His heart rate finally lessened and his breathing slowed to a more normal pace. He then looked up as comprehension tumbled over him.
There was only one explanation for what had occurred. This damn place was haunted and what he had just seen was nothing other than a ghost.
Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble
I think I just might have a new favorite author — or at least one whose additional work I definitely will be reading. And that would be J.H. Trumble author of don’t let me go, a novel that I just completed and absolutely loved. I read the book in one sitting, staying up several hours past my bedtime because I simply could not put it down.
This delicate yet powerful character-driven story follows the love story between two young men, Adam and Nate. They meet in high school and almost immediately, are inseparable and the love that they feel for one another is evident almost from day one. Told from Nate’s point of view, we are privy to the ups and downs of young love as the two teens figure out who they are in the presence of each other and experience growth in the process. The author does an excellent job of weaving together a complicated first love and I found the writing to evocative, with the perfect amount of description.
It’s All About The Angst
But what’s a novel without a little angst, right? If you like angst, you’ll find plenty of it in this book. Shortly before Adam graduates, a horrific event occurs during with Nate suffers both physical and psychological injuries. Adam, whose love is the theater, is presented with an opportunity to go to New York with a theater troupe only a few months after the incident. The question is: should he go or should he stay? If he if goes, how will it affect their relationship?
Well, we know right from the first page that Adam does indeed go as the novel opens with tense scene during with Nate driving Adam to the airport. With the talented use of flashbacks, the author fills us in on how they arrived at this particular point in their lives and what the fallout (and there is indeed fallout) of Adam’s decision will be on Nate’s life and their relationship. Several misunderstandings on the part of the characters creates plenty of obstacles four our pair and their relationship, causing them to not always make the best decisions.
The characters themselves are meticulously developed and as such, the reader truly feels the depth of their relationship as they grow deeper in love and later on in the novel, further apart. The supporting cast of colorful characters is well presented such as Danial the tease who has shadows of his own; Annie, their best friend, who I suspect is still in love with Nate; and of course Granny, who spends her time looking at gay porn on the computer.
The writing is solid and clear, although some people might not like the author’s use of “time-jumping” — but I felt that it worked well in the story and was expertly handled, as it revealed a touching backstory that helped us to know and understand each character’s motivation.
At one point in the story nearing the end of the novel, I found myself getting a tad disgusted with Adam and came to the conclusion that he was kind of a dick. In my eyes, this likable character had transformed into somewhat of an unlikeable brat. If you come to this same point, keep reading — he redeems himself later one (but he doesn’t have an easy time of it). The bad decisions he makes however, does render him more believable as a character as we are all prone to making the wrong choices here and there. But by the end of the novel, you will care deeply about these characters and what happens to them.
In the midst of turmoil, there is humor and I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the story at the witty dialog that Trumble throws at us. Although there is a light touch in places, don’t be deceived — the author tells a very serious story during which our characters learn about love, loss, disappointment, bigotry, deceit, betrayal and friendship.
Don’t Let Me Go is an excellent young adult coming-of-age tale to which many gay and lesbian teens will be able to relate. I found this book to be a refreshing well-written and emotional story dealing with two gay teens who overcome past hurts to find love and the promise of a future together. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Recommended!