October is turning into the Month of Reading YA Lit, so I’m going to go with it. The special today is called Beau, Lee, the Bomb, and Me, and it follows several misfit children as they take an impromptu roadtrip down the west coast of the US and try to figure out their place in the world.
Spoiler alert (kind of): one girl has had an abusive past and lacks self respect, the boy is gay and struggling to find his identity and not get beat up at school, and the other girl is fat and smart and doesn’t fit in with other people. So we’ve basically got the great stereotypes of awkward high schoolers: the fat one, the geek, the gay, and the slut.
I’m going to be a little harsh here for a minute, and say that this book, which is presented through the voice of Rusty, the overweight girl, is very preachy. Sometimes too preachy. Teens are not stupid. They know when they’re being Taught A Lesson. You gotta ease your message in, you can’t just slap people in the face with it. And I totally agree with what the message is here, which is that gays are cool and we should all just get along and you should respect yourself no matter what. It’s a great message, and the characters are likable and believable. But just cool it on the preachiness front, ok?
*Harshness over* That being said, I really enjoyed reading this book! I’ve just moved to Portland, Oregon, so it was interesting to read a novel set mostly in the Pacific Northwest. And McKinley has an interesting writing style. Written in the first person in the voice of Rusty, it’s very casual and sprinkled with pop culture references and current slang. Time will tell whether this will age like a fine wine or like a bowl of moldy fruit – I’ll leave the verdict open on that one for now. She does come out with some excellent moments. The message of the book is awesome, truly – I just think that when it goes overboard, it’s not doing anyone any favors. But at its best moments, it’s great.
Reading this as a gay person myself who didn’t realize I was gay until I was twenty, and who’s never faced severe discrimination – e.g. I’ve never lost a job or been physically threatened or abused – it was shocking, and depressing, to read about poor Beau and his struggles to survive high school. I’m sure it’s a struggle that many adolescents are going through every day, and if this book inspires even one teen to be more empathetic to their classmates, then I forgive all of the preachiness and LOLs and count it as a major success.
Conclusion: I liked this book. I would buy it for someone. I think it has flaws, but everything does. I’d definitely read another book by Mary McKinley. Three and a half out of five stars.