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You make me think. . . i’m still not sure how much i like you.

September 17, 2010

i’m having a tough time thinking about how i want to write this book review.  i’ve read a lot of books in my years and there have been books i’ve loved and books i’ve hated, books i am apathetic about and books that make me angry.  i’ve run the gamut of emotions throughout my love of the written word.  So here is my problem: i can’t put my finger on where i stand with this book.  i can’t decipher what it is about this book.  But apparently i’m going to try.

The book in question: The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon.

A brief synopsis: Ben Campbell is 17 years old, three years earlier his dad came out and his mother left.  Ben turned into a rebellious teenager and now his father and his father’s partner are taking him and moving him to the middle of nowhere.

The good: The book is, for the most part, well written.  There are a few places that feel forced and awkward but sometimes life is forced and awkward so i can forgive that.  There are a few characters that are lovely and i wish that i could have seen more of them.  The story is unique- not like any i’ve come across before.

The bad: Ben, the main character for me is the biggest downfall of this book.  And here’s where i get shaky on my feelings- i don’t know if i have a problem with Ben and the book because my feelings are so inherently different from his or because i feel like Ben as a character is too much of a mishmash of people.  When Ben’s dad comes out and his mom leaves Ben starts acting out; getting in trouble with the police, smoking pot, drinking etc.  Later in the book he tries to explain himself with the idea that he wanted attention from his dad and that makes sense but it isn’t explored enough for me to find it believable.  There is too much backstory left out that the author tries to fill in with bits and pieces of information at points when it just isn’t enough to be real.  Also there are times Ben made me so angry i wanted to shut the book and walk away from it.  But it wasn’t so much that Ben is sort of an ass in general, it was the fact that there never seemed to be a redeeming moment.  For example: Ben openly admits that dads should not be gay- it’s not a real family.  The last line of one chapter reads, “And even though my dad might not have chosen to be gay, he had chosen to be a gay father.”  I get that teenagers (people in general, really) have crazy emotions that can’t always been well explained in the midst of feeling them- i get that we all say things that we wish we could take back.  But that’s just it- Ben never wants to take it back.  It makes it hard for me to see this gay-friendly book (and believe me, in ways it really is) as completely gay-friendly.  Maybe the book i would have liked to read would have needed to be a few hundred pages longer in order to fill in all the gaps that seem to be lingering.  i do feel like things change as the book goes on that Ben changes but things aren’t explained and at the end i felt like it came to a i love him because he’s my dad conclusion and not an i love him because i really love my dad conclusion.  i realize we can’t always have that happy ending but in the grand scheme of things i hoped for more.  i guess i hoped for acceptance not tolerance and i don’t feel like i got it.

i don’t know, am i asking for too much?  Am i trying to dictate how the book should read? Am i just being bratty because it didn’t turn out the way i wanted it to?  Maybe.  i hope at least one of you out there reads or has read it it and lets me know what you think.

It really is worthwhile reading even if it is just for the tornado of questions it creates.  Because if it doesn’t cause your brain to spin with wonder and your emotions to get played with it probably isn’t worth reading.

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