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Review: Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
4 Stars: A Great Read
Series: Russel Middlebrook #1
Paperback: 226 Pages
Publication: March 13, 2003 by HarperTempest

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!"

One of the most charming points in this novel is Russ's voice.

Russ is a brilliantly ordinary high school boy with an awesome, very real, matter-of-fact way of speaking that had me laughing at the most random times of day. You have to love the guy. If I had been reading in a public area instead of safe at home on the family couch, I'm sure I would have gotten some awkward stares. (Though I'm pretty sure my brother and my dog thought I'd gone nuts.)

It's rare nowadays to pick up a clean read set in a high school setting. It's also rare to pick up a book where homosexuality is talked about in such a matter-of-fact way. I recently read an interview at Literary Rambles where an author talks about how difficult it is to publish a book where the protagonist is both male and gay. It's disconcerting because we talk all the time about how we need to be made more aware of such issues, but instead not making such a fuss in the first place and just accepting individual differences. It's a shame too because we may be missing out on more nice guys like Russ just because publishers hesitate to publish books about gay male protagonists.

The Geography Club is one of the few places where Russ can relax with like friends. In fact, it comes out of the desire for a safe place to meet without the group having to worry about how the rest of the world looks at them. It's wonderful to see teens of various backgrounds come together there, all with their respective individual charms, including bisexual Asian Min with a competitive spirit, and straight, colorful Belinda with a radiant smile.

Still, the novel isn't solely focused on how Russ deals with the potential consequences to his social life by coming out. He's another teenager. He worries about his love life and wants to spend as much time as possible with the one he likes. He worries about what others think about him, and he also worries about his friends and their respective problems. Biggest of all is Russ's growth over the course of the novel as he rethinks his priorities and comes to terms with how he views himself as a person and how he outwardly expresses himself. He makes many bad choices throughout the novel, and he isn't afraid to acknowledge them. I respect his decision at the end.

The reading level of this book is more at the middle-grade level, but it can also be enjoyed by older audiences. For the most part, this book is a clean read. My only hesitation about referring this to middle-grade readers would be somewhat innocent references to tushes using three-letter words and to lower-body parts in addition to name-calling (sometimes as jokes, othertimes not so kindly). Still, like I said, this is a clean read for the most part. Russ doesn't go into elaborate detail regarding this topics, and this book isn't littered with cuss words like a lot of other books I see in the market today.

A copy was provided by the author for review purposes.

Russel Middlebrook Series

#1 Geography Club (read my review here)
#2 The Order of the Poison Oak (read my review here)
#3 Double Feature (read my review here)
#4 The Elephant of Surprise (read my review here)
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