Posts tagged ‘brother relationship’

Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher (2009)

Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher is a story told by Logan Witherspoon, a high school senior in small-town Missouri.  He is upset about – and borderline obsessed with – the recent breakup with his ex-girlfriend, Brenda.  Then Sage Hendricks moves into town and changes his world: she is tall, vivacious and beautiful in her own quirky way.  Sage and Logan hit it off immediately, but she is not allowed to see him outside of school, and sometimes she reacts strangely to his touch.  Sage is obviously keeping a secret from him.  They finally kiss, and Sage reveals the truth: she was born a boy.  Logan reacts with anger, and treats Sage badly for weeks.  He is confused: if he was (and still is) attracted to a male, does that make him gay?  Does anyone else know that Sage is really a boy?  Logan eventually realizes that Sage desperately needs a good friend, so he decides to reach out to her and rekindle their friendship.  He cannot help but see Sage as a girl, and he finds himself falling in love with her.   Almost Perfect is an honest exploration of an uncommon relationship and a topic that is seldom discussed.

Throughout the course of the novel, very few characters know that Sage was born a boy, and they have a variety of reactions.  Logan is angry, and later finds himself cycling through feelings of love, disgust, and fear.

Why couldn’t she just be a real girl?  Our lives would be great.  She was so close to the real thing.  But close didn’t count. (p. 285)

Sage’s parents are permissive, but not supportive: they only allow her to live as a female because of a suicide attempt.  They forced her to be homeschooled for several years and moved to another town so that no one would find out her secret.  Sage’s sister Tammi is loving and very protective, but she feels guilty for encouraging Sage to become a girl: Tammi knows how much easier Sage’s life would be as a normal boy.  Logan’s sister is immediately accepting: she thinks Sage is a wonderful person, and could not care less that Sage was born male.  An unnamed college student has an unfortunately violent reaction: Sage is badly beaten and left for dead.  Will this incident convince Sage to go back to being a boy?

Katcher, B. (2009). Almost Perfect. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

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What They Always Tell Us, by Martin Wilson (2008)

What They Always Tell Us is entitled based on the remark “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you” and Alex remarks, “Yeah, that’s what they always tell us” (p. 70). Martin Wilson writes a story that appeals to older teens with siblings, or readers who may be facing the issues of sexuality or depression. It is ultimately a story of support between siblings in coming out.

The story is told with a quiet tone to mark the sadness and intensity of, and the contrast between, two brothers, James and Alex. The two brothers, growing up in Alabama, are night and day, James the extroverted high school senior, and Alex more withdrawn, introspective, and considerate. The brothers are initially close, but James begins to withdraw and avoid Alex after an incident at a party in which Alex drinks Pine-Sol in an apparent suicide attempt.

The undercurrent of the story revolves around Alex’s sexuality, which is indicated but not referred to directly at first, much like the subtly referenced gay longings of the character of Peter in William Sleator’s House of Stairs.

The first time the reader knows to whom Alex’s sexual attraction is directed is when Alex becomes very close with James’ friend Nathen. “Alex and Nathen are friends now, for sure. But it’s a different type of friendship. Or it feels like it is. It’s not like he and Nathen are hanging out drinking beers, or talking about girls, or even going to parties together” (p. 100). When the two are at the locker room of a sports club, Alex steals glances at Nathen’s body, while feeling insecure that he is not toned enough, his hips are too wide, and his butt is white and “too plump” (p. 105), all thoughts that are indicative of his sexual preference. This passage still leads one to wonder at times if he is merely idolizing Nathen, as Nathen is one consistent friend while others have stopped being Alex’s friends.

Alex and James’ parents regularly ask James if something is wrong with Alex or if it is just that “[m]aybe he’s going through the whole sullen teenager phase” (p. 31). When younger, Alex was able to maintain an affinity with his two friends Tyler and Kirk because neither of them had dated, either. This dynamic begins to unravel as the story progresses, and it intensifies his depression. Homosexuality is not overtly addressed at first. Alex does not want to go to church, and James does not attend any more either (p. 44).  Alex’s interest in Nathen is returned when Nathen seamlessly and naturally nudges him into the same shower stall at the sports club and they begin kissing (p. 122). In short order, they are dating, and the jock clique that James is a part of immediately begins to notice that there is something going on between Nathen and Alex.

While the story is written in third-person, the chapters alternate which brother the perspective focuses on. The alteration of focus indicates that the sexuality awareness affects more than just one person and has some bearing on the brothers’ relationship. What looms larger is the guilt that James feels for not being able to help Alex or make him happy. This guilt expresses itself by a feeling of hostility James develops towards Alex for not being “normal” (as in not depressed). James immediately suspects that something is going on between Alex and Nathen, and the text implies that he knows it is a relationship, but his real discomfort comes from Nathen’s ability to make Alex happy and lift him up when James could not. Even with this jealousy rising up in him, his love for his brother prevails, and he defends Nathen when there are allegations of Nathen being a “fag” (p. 177). Eventually, Alex comes out to James because he cannot hide some of the taunting going on at school. In spite of the taunting, Alex is happy in his relationship with Nathen. James tells him “I know you’re happy. An I’m glad. I mean it” while patting him on the shoulder, and James sobs with relief because he feels he has finally been a good brother (p. 240).

What They Always Tell Us has a somewhat atypical coming out backdrop because it is almost exclusively in the context of the brotherly relationship. While there is one passage that insinuates their mother knows Alex is gay, this area of exploration is not pursued, perhaps because this will happen after James leaves for university the following year. This story is one of absolute support. James is, in fact, only able to give full support to Alex once Alex puts all of his previous troubles in context by sharing who he is.

Wilson, M. (2008). What they always tell us. New York: Delacorte Press.

Reviews of What They Always Tell Us, from Martin Wilson Writes.