This is a book about a boy coming to terms with his sexuality in a world that doesn’t want him around. It’s about love, it’s about hate, and it’s about understanding who you are. The message is a beautiful one: Any love that is love is right.
I first heard about this book last summer before I went to the ALA conference. Up in West Bend, Wisconsin, a certain library system is dealing with a ridiculous lawsuit. Four guys calling themselves the “Christian Civil Liberties Union” wants this book pulled from library shelves. Not that unusual, really, but what makes this case particularly unique is that they are also asking for legal permission to publicly burn all the library’s copies of the book as a way to tell authors not to write this sort of “filth.”
Honestly, I wanted to read this book during Banned Books Week last fall, but then I discovered that 1) it was part of a series and there were four other books that came before it, and 2) it was a hardcore science fiction novel. Now I have no idea where I got that second impression – more on that in a minute – but Debi let me know that this could easily be read as a standalone book. I now finally got around to reading it, with Debi’s encouragement.
It’s a short book, more of a novella really, barely over 100 pages. The writing is very simple, almost kid-lit in tone though not in subject. I did go into this thinking it was going to be a sci-fi book, and I’m generally not a big fan of sci-fi, so I was leery. When the main character, Dirk, falls in love with another boy, Pup, I was convinced that Pup was really an elf or something because his slightly pointed ears were mentioned more than once. When I heard about Dirk’s grandmother’s house, I thought the whole thing was literally gingerbread-cottage-y. Yeah.
Just in case anyone else got the idea that this was sci-fi or fantasy: it’s not. It’s actually more like historical fiction, in a good way. You guys know I rarely like historical fiction, but as I said in a recent Sunday Salon post, I like it when the historical setting is merely the background on which a plot is laid. This story takes place about 30 years ago, with flashbacks to older times than that. Other than cultural references, it could have taken place in any time. That’s the sort of historical fiction I like!
This book gave me barely a glimpse into the world of its characters. They passed in and out of my mind like a dream. They told their story, almost fairy-tale-like, and slipped off into their own world again. The good, the bad, the indifferent – it was all immutable. It was hard for me to know what to make of it, but after a few days and a second read-through, I think I really liked it. It feels like something I cannot quite capture, cannot quite wrap up into my arms and pin down. Pup with his pointed ears may not have been an elf, but the whole book has a fairy-like feel to it, similar in tone to what I imagine A Midsummer Night’s Dream is meant to feel like (yes, I admit it, I haven’t read that one, sorry!).
Once again, the people who want to ban (or burn) this book have created something desperately out of proportion. Are there hard words in this book? Yes, but not as bad as some. Do bad things happen? Yes, but again, not as bad as some. Is homosexuality discussed? Yes, though in terms of love, not sex. I was expecting something much, much stronger to have garnered that specific reaction up in Wisconsin. I should have known better…
I think I need to get the whole Dangerous Angels collection now.