A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{June 22, 2010}   The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon

Plot: A few years ago Ben’s father came out of the closet and it blew their family apart. Ben’s mother took off and Ben had to live with the embarrassment of having a gay dad. So he starts acting out, getting in trouble. Ben is now 17 and his dad, at a loss moves them all to his boyfriend’s tiny, rural hometown. Ben’s dad hopes to straighten him out but Ben is more worried about the neighbor’s kid. His mother has also run off and Ben suspects that he is being abused.

This book disappointed me a bit. The plot and the writing was fine (an easy read even for reluctant readers) but I picked up some messages that I found distinctly disturbing.

For one, Ben calls his father some pretty nasty things (fag among them) and is not very accepting of the fact that he is gay. I could accept this in the name of realism. Would your average teenage boy be cool with his dad being gay? No. And having worked with teens, I know they can swing around offensive terms quite casually. The problem is rather how this is dealt with in the narrative. Ben’s dad is selfish and oversensitive for being offended by Ben’s comments and his boyfriend Edward (who Ben refers to as his “Momdad” which is strange too) is cool because he understands that Ben “doesn’t really mean anything by it”. Really? Is this the message we want to be giving teens?

And for a book that claims that beating a child is abuse, it seems to show that it is a quite effective way of straightening (no pun intended) a boy out. While Ben worries about the neighbor’s boy getting beaten and locked up, Edward’s mother beats him with spoons, makes him sleep in the shed, and generally brow beats him. And while he grumbles, it works. He turns almost instantly into a polite, hardworking boy who feels quite a bit of affection for the gruff old lady. He doesn’t listen to or respect his father who is repeatedly referred to as effeminate who worries too much and tries solve problems by talking. Really, all that Ben needed was to be beaten by an old lady with a spoon.

I wasn’t expecting an easy book with easy answers to living in what can be a difficult situation but this book, frankly, bothered me.


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