Sunday, October 16, 2011

Young And Foolish (Book Thoughts: Geography Club/The Order Of The Poison Oak)

I don't really read YA (Young Adult) books because ... I'm old. But I have read that there's a whole lot of recent great books in the genre. I mean, the Harry Potter books, and the (IMO horrid) twilight series ones are technically YA titles, so there's not a lack of interest and success in the genre. But I have always wanted to read Brent Hartinger's "The Geography Club," as I have heard only wonderful things about it. I never had a chance until recently. I read it and its sequel, "The Order Of The Poison Oak" during my vacation and they were swift reads, and they were enjoyable and light, and at times profound. Both books follow the character of Russel Middlebrook, a gay High School student who has to deal with daily life and then compounded by conflicts because of his sexual orientation. Set in a high school, the first book has a very important message - that of tolerance, compassion, and self-acceptance, and that makes the book very universal, its relevance not constricted to teenagers. Mr. Hartinger has a great ear for dialogue: these kids sound very real, and believable. You can relate to their plight, and their actions would remind anyone of their own adolescent years. I read that this title has been banned by the most school systems. There is a scene in the book wherein the gay character meets someone online and decides to meet with him. Apparently, this has caught the ire of Fundamentalists who think that youngsters would emulate the character and start setting up clandestine meetings with strangers. I suspect they are anti-gay groups who want to propel their hate. "The Geography Club" is an important book, one that should be read by those exact same people.

"The Order Of The Poison Oak," is the sequel to "The Geography Club," and it more or less follows the same characters after the school year ends as they work at a summer camp for burn victim kids. So, as you can see, the message here can be a little heavy-handed. It's not as good as the first book, but it is still pretty good. Sometimes I feel like Mr. Hartinger is guilty of churning the same themes. Russell's character is so well written that even if we are subjected to his flaws, he still comes out heroic. I am sure a lot of people who liked the first book would want to tune in and see what happens to him here.

BC - 32/33

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