Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club
by Brent Hartinger
Published by HarperTeen
Publication Date February 17, 2004
Pages 240
Source: Library

(from Goodreads)
Russel Middlebrook is convinced he's the only gay kid at Goodkind High School.

Then his online gay chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students, too. There's his best friend Min, who reveals that she is bisexual, and her soccer-playing girlfriend Terese. Then there's Terese's politically active friend, Ike.

But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

"We just choose a club that's so boring, nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!"

Brent Hartinger's debut novel is a fast-paced, funny, and trenchant portrait of contemporary teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.

My Thoughts

With this one book, Brent Hartinger has easily gained a fan in me. From the very beginning of Geography Club, with a semi-awkward locker room scene, I immediately adored the main character, Russel Middlebrook. His take on navigating high-school as a gay teenager is done with such heart and humor. And I love how Russel shares his story by talking directly to the reader - Ferris Bueller style.

Russel thinks that he is the only gay guy in his high school and he soon learns that he is one of a few - definitely more than he ever imagined. What I found really interesting is that most of the characters who are gay, admit to themselves and accept that they are gay, but it doesn't seem real until other people know that they are gay. Russel addresses this right as approaches another teenager he met in a gay chat-room:
This was stupid. I'd talked to dozens of gay teenagers on the Internet. I'd told them I was gay. What was the difference? But even as I thought this, I knew the difference, and it was big. This was real. (pg. 17)
Once he met someone else who was like him, it became easier for Russel to talk about his thoughts and his struggles and fears of rejection. When he finally shares his secret that he had kept from his friend, Min, he seemed lighter, free from the weight of this secret he had kept for so long. And Min admits that she is gay (this may just be one of my favorite scenes in the who book), or at least bi-sexual, too . But Min doesn't experience the same relief that Russel does. Instead it affects Min's relationship with her girlfriend - for her it has become too real. 

What I think is important part of the story is that Russel, Min, Kevin, and the others have found acceptance with each other, but they are still not out to the rest of the kids at school or to their families. They've found a friendship in their common-bond, but they are still unsure of how everyone else will respond to their being gay. But is this common-bond enough to make a friendship last?

Hartinger continues Russel's story in three more books. The final book The Elephant of Surprise will be reviewed in the coming weeks. I'm looking forward to reading more about the characters and see how they interact and change and which friendships last and which ones possibly become even more.

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