Friday, October 19, 2007

Absolutely, Positively NOT - A Gay Teen Book

By David La Rochelle

This book cracked me up.

In David's words: "Sixteen-year-old Steven DeNarski doesn’t know if he’ll pass his driver’s test or if he’ll ever understand his parents, but there’s one thing he’s sure of: he’s absolutely, positively NOT gay. He sets out to prove it by collecting photos of girls in bikinis, sitting at the jock table at school, and dating like crazy."

"Absolutely, Positively NOT" won a bunch of awards, including the 2005 Sid Fleischman Humor Award - so you know it's funny!

...And just wait till you read who Steven takes to the Prom!

Add your review of this book in "comments!"


Rita said...

I loved this book so, so much.

So, so, so, so much.

To paraphrase what Greg and I once agreed, after we'd met the author: to read this book was to hear it in his voice. Every word. It was as close to an audio book as one could get while reading to yourself.

I was falling out of my chair.

web said...

Notes from the Windowsill review:

Why are we so clueless?
Why are we so slow?
When it comes to coming out,
why are we the last ones to know?"

--Romanovsky and Phillips

Sixteen-year-old Steven has an ugly secret: he likes to square dance. But when a very cute new teacher named Mr. Bowman arrives at his school, Steven begins to wonder is being a closet square dancer might not be his only ugly secret. And so he begins a ridiculous journey of self-denial, as he attempts to convince himself he is absolutely, positively not gay.

Following the advice of a pathetically outdated library book, Steven first tries hanging out with the most macho clique in the cafeteria, but all it gets him is the nickname "Upchuck." Next comes aversion therapy with a rubber band, which only makes him realize how astonishingly often he thinks about things he shouldn't be thinking about: "Did other guys think about women as much as I thought about men?" Finally he tries dating, discovering that girls love the way he helps them clean their basements, shovels their walks, and listens to their problems... but attempting to make out with one winds up being something he absolutely, positively can't do.

Finally, in one of the funniest scenes of the book, Steven breaks down and comes out to his best friend Rachel--and just as Romanovsky and Phillips once wrote, she and everyone else in her family are utterly unsurprised. "To complete the family picture, Rachel's ten-year-old sister, Tracy, pushed her way through the door. 'DON'T SAY IT!' I cried. 'Don't you dare tell her anything!'... At last Rachel's little sister spoke. 'Did Steven finally tell Rachel he was gay?'"

Although generally screamingly over the top, there are moments of real feeling in this story, as when Steven discovers that though the teacher he idolized is probably gay too, he cowardly laughs at faggot jokes. And Steven's desperate longing just to find someone he can talk to about being gay is far from funny. But all ends reasonably happily, after much, much laughter. (14 & up)

Copyright Wendy Betts 2006

Anonymous said...

LaRochelle’s novel is a fun, utterly enjoyable journey through a gay teen’s experiences in self-discovery. Yes, the subject itself is a serious one, but LaRochelle treats Steven’s coming-out process with equal amounts of wit, affection, and sympathy, so much so that I didn’t at all feel as though Steven’s ordeal is being dismissed for the sake of humor.

As the novel’s main character, Steven is very likable, and his initial paranoia about his being the only gay kid in Beaver Lake forces him in a do-or-die situation, one which he has to handle alone. His self-knowledge begins with a handful of observations he’s made about himself, but when it comes to the more “technical” information (for lack of a better term) about homosexuality, he flounders - quite badly, at that - using nothing but a wretched old book that’s crammed from cover to cover with badly outdated information. Because of his age and his naivete, he also goes by a certain narrow (yet widely accepted) perspective about how boys - straight boys - are expected to behave, which makes him turn to the “usual indicators” of heterosexuality in order to prove to himself that he’s no different from most boys in school. Steven has no guide, no confidant, no mentor. He’s young, clueless, and understandably frightened of being different.

LaRochelle engages us with scene after hilarious scene of Steven’s desperate attempts and miscalculations. The boy, at times, comes across as painfully innocent in his methods. This makes Steven’s misadventures seem cartoonish, but I saw something far more serious - even dangerous - under all the surface goofiness. The marathon dating of girls, the dog-as-dance-partner scenario, the “therapy” involving snapping a rubber band around the wrist whenever Steven catches himself thinking “deviant thoughts” - from a more serious standpoint, I can see these as situations that are not only terribly embarrassing, but also threatening to a gay teen’s sense of self-worth.

And that to me is what makes this novel a worthy read. There’s a lot of humor, but it’s respectful and sympathetic. It’s also of the kind that doesn’t try to fool us into thinking that things are cute and fluffy and come with a studio audience that’ll laugh at the right moment. Steven, in fact, begins his self-discovery looking at the world in shades of black and white. As the novel progresses and one scheme after another falls flat, he learns about the different hues of gray that make up most of his world. These are both harrowing - such as the truth regarding Mr. Bowman’s complicity in perpetuating hatred against gays (the greatest, saddest irony in the book) - and empowering - such as Steven’s perceptions about the jocks in school, both gay and straight.

Even the more accepting and open-minded straight character like Rachel is given a bit of a humorous finger-wagging from LaRochelle. Well-meaning straight allies can get carried away in their attempts at showing their support, perhaps even pushing gay friends into doing things well before they’re ready to take the next step. Funny? Yes. Serious? Absolutely.

Anonymous said...

David LaRochelle’s Absolutely, Positively Not… (Gay) is the most rollicking fun time I’ve had reading a book in quite some time. I would say it’s a cross between a Beverly Cleary book and a Woody Allen movie. Not your regular teen coming out book with heavy-handed angst, pain, and turmoil; this story is light-as-a-feather, genuinely funny, and as feel-good as it gets. It qualifies as a children’s book but is smart enough to captivate adults as well.

16-year-old Steven DeNarski is fiercely in denial about the fact that he’s gay. In order to “straighten” himself out, he checks out a book from the local library and attempts to follow its advice. He sits at the jocks’ table in the cafeteria, hoping their masculinity will rub off on him, tries aversion therapy – snapping his wrist with a rubber band whenever he thinks about boys, and goes on a dating spree taking out every girl in school who will agree to a date. When it all fails, he resigns to take a little peek out of the closet. When he tells his best friend Rachel, he thinks he might be gay, she squeals with delight telling him her parents had predicted to her a year ago that he was gay. When he worries that if her parents figured it out, might his own parents already know as well? She answers, “I’m sorry Steven, I don’t think your parents even know that Elton John is gay!” Rachel is gung-ho to yank him all the way out and make him the poster-boy of a gay-straight alliance club in school. When he comes out to his mother, she refuses to hear it, constantly changing the subject – it’s obvious where he inherited his capacity for denial. His father has a totally different reaction.

I was reminded of my childhood, reading Beverly Cleary and completely cracking up at the scrapes that Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby would get themselves into. I should explain that I am particularly in tune to humor derived from slightly neurotic situations – I think Woody Allen is 30,000 times funnier than Will Ferrell. LaRochelle’s wit constantly had me in stitches, often resulting in out and out laughing fits. I read comments from other readers who complained that the book was sit-commish – I only wish more sit-coms were this sophisticated and witty!

But underneath all the humor and outlandish situations, there is real heart. Steven’s struggle to fit in, and his embarrassment over his social gaffes will reel you in. He suffers a bit of disillusionment near the end as one perceived “ally” lets him down, but great hope when another ally is found where he least expects it. The end made my heart soar. Damn, what I wouldn’t have given to have a book like this when I was a teenager.

Mark R. Probst

J.H. Trumble said...

A darling book! I'm buying this one for my junior high library!!