HarperCollins have grabbed onto another keeper here, and author Brent Hartinger is really packing some punches in his gay youth fiction series recounting the trials of 16 year old Russel Middlebrook as he comes to terms with coming/being out as a gay kid in High School. Coming out is hard enough, but in the voice of Russel, Hartinger really shows you the excitement and fear and confusion that goes hand-in-hand with coming to terms with your sexuality while still trying to figure out how to stand on your own two feet.
Book one of the series – The Geography Club – is a great introduction to Russel himself, but also to the supporting characters who make the book a funny and gripping thrill to read. His two best friends, Gunnar (a Scandinavian super-geek with suspected social issues) and Min (the bisexual Asian-American hard-ass with more brain than she knows what to do with) provide perfect support as they embark on a series of trials to culminate in self-discovery. Also introduced here in the closeted sports jock Kevin, Russels first crush, and a handful of misfits to pull the story along in a sweet little rollercoaster of hormones and angst. The basic jist of the story is these kids, dealing with their attractions and finding solace in each other’s company, starting a group to meet each other without alerting the student body to their secrets. Introducing The Geography Club, a facade so dull, they won’t have to deal with requests for new members. Things go from good to interesting to completely unravelling at the seams, and every minute is a pleasure to read as Hartinger leads you down path after path of well-written teenage drama.
Book 2 – The Order of the Poision Oak – takes Russ, Gunnar and Min off to be councillors at a summer camp, and focuses mainly on the first two weeks, where the kids are survivors of drastic cosmetic burns. We have new supporting plot members, love triangles, and trip-wires-a-palooza all set up to find Russel and co all on their asses again and again. By far the sweetest and most heartfelt book in the series, this chronicles Russel’s journey into the unknown, as now it’s not only his own issues he faces, but also the looking-glass of the ten burn survivors that are charged as his wards.
Finally, book 3 – Double Feature – is a two part frolic that sees the guys head off to be extras in a zombie movie. I couldn’t have picked a more appealing setting for this story. Zombies are right on trend, the movie genre brings Gunnar into focus as his nerd-gasms take effect for all to see, and for the first time, we get to see the heart behind the awkward sidekick. This book also sees the re-appearance of Kevin, and the struggles he now ensues, finally coming out in a bid to win back the affections of Russel. The best part about this book is that it is not longer just Russel’s story. The second feature in this tale is narrated by Min, whose build-up, to now, has been fairly taciturn, but now we dig under her thick veneer to see all that lies beneath, as she fills in the missing parts of Russel’s experience and takes us on a journey all over her own making.
These books are great, dealing with all kinds of themes that any kid coming out will have to deal with. There are the School dramas, the ups-and-downs of friendships, coming out to parents who are one step away from sending for an old priest and a young priest to exorcise the pervert right out of you. The best part, in my humble opinion, is that Russel doesn’t have a clue what’s happening most of the time. He’s completely human. This is a character that is dealing with everything that’s thrown at him with no experience and little idea how to deal with it, and it makes him more relatable, but also makes the supporting characters much more endearing.
I think this series of books are a go-to for anyone who’s ever tried to deal with coming out and not had it go their way. It’s wonderfully written, elegantly executed, and I recommend this series as the coming out books of our generation. It was a pleasure to behold.