Band Fags by Frank Anthony Polito
The main character of this book, Jack, is so lovable and heartbreaking as a queer kid trying to figure himself out in high school. I was friends with this kid, and while I managed to never date the type, most of my close girl friends all dated the same handful of handsome, effeminate, “asexual” guys. Your heart breaks for him knowing that he’ll find himself in adulthood, even though he’s still not quite there yet by the end of the book. It’s Jack’s book, but it’s also the story of his friendship with Brad, who is able to more easily (but maybe also superficially) come to terms with his sexuality, and all the things in their lives that bring them close and pull them apart. The plot mostly consists of watching Jack grow from pre-teen to college boy. But by the end, I was still sad they didn’t talk more about being in marching band (the cover got my hopes up).
There were a few problems I had with the book at the very beginning, the writing style was distracting and so were all the pop culture references. But it ended up being easy to acclimate to both and accept what the author is doing by writing in the style of a boy both precocious and clueless. There are lots of exclamation points. Over the course of the book, you become completely drawn in to Jack’s mid-1980’s world and I’m sad now to be done with the book.
This is another good example of how books for teens are different than books for adults about teens. Not that there aren’t teenagers who would enjoy this book, especially gay ones brave enough to get past the title, but the story benefits from having a reader who is looking back on youth with the benefit of age. The perspective isn’t one of that kind of looking back on youthful episodes at all, but reading it with some distance adds to the weight of the story. Jack’s life is filled with friends and acquaintances and in-jokes and shared memories. He hoards those memories like only teenagers (and maybe the elderly) do. If I were to go back right now and reread my yearbooks, I wouldn’t understand or remember half of what was written about me, but at the time it grounded me and helped me figure out my place in the world. Jack is still in the middle of all that and doesn’t realize that the rest of his life, the stuff that will really matter to him, has yet to happen. True for everyone, but even more so for someone unable to admit to the world or even to himself that he’s gay. And I think Polito really captures high school hierarchies in a way that most other authors don’t. It’s not all jocks and geeks and stoners: that sometimes pretty girls date or are friends with much geekier guys. That unlikely friendships happen, that you can have a lot of friends but still get made fun of and feel unsure of your place.
I want to give this book a hug; I really loved it.