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"Polito captures perfectly the acne and the angst of teen boys...with the agonies of raging hormones, lunchroom cliques...cute boys who keep their distance, and the heartbreak of adoring a female TV soap star too much." --Book Marks, Richard Labonte
"Band Fags!" is one of those rare books you may want to read not once but, like, totally a bijillion times. --H/X Magazine
Band Fags! explores the difficulties of growing up gay in the 1980s, all told with a sense of humor and affection for its characters. As you would expect from a playwright, Band Fags! shines with its clever dialogue and witty comments. --AfterElton
"If the words Dallas, Dynasty and the Go-Go's resonate with you, get this book." --IN Los Angeles
"The book jacket alone is enough to make anyone who loves a man in a white uniform with red trim quiver with glee..." --The Advocate
From the Author
If you enjoyed Band Fags! be sure to check out the official sequel "A Christmas to Remember" as featured in the collection Remembering Christmas.
For those of us Gen Xer's, the 80's, a much maligned area, played a significant role in our development ... Reagan, AIDS, Madonna, Dallas, and the premiere of MTV. It's a wonder any of us survived this decade, much less thrived in it. But somehow we did, such as the characters did in Frank Polito's new book, the appropriately titled "Band Fags".
Polito takes us on a journey in what appears to be a semi-autobiographical journey through his adolescence in the Detroit suburbs. He writes about Jack, a top-notch student, lead trumpet player, and questioning homosexual, and a bevy of friends that accompany Jack through his school years. His first and foremost friend is Brad, whom he meets almost casually, but then develops a quickly close relationship that somehow only teens seem to be able to pull off. Brad, discovering his sexuality and accepting it quickly , poses an unspoken threat to Jack, who seems to exhibit signs of "gayness" but is ultimately unsure of his path. The duo form an interesting pair, and it's their story that really drives you through the book.
True to high school, Polito throws in a bevy of friends, characters that sometimes get confused, despite his attempt to clarify them through Jack reminding you of who was who. Soon, however, the important ones bubble to the surface, as Jack goes through different events that shape his social standing with the groups. As Jack reunites with a former best friend Joey, and develops a crush on him, the "am I" or "am I not?" question rears its ugly head in an all too familiar and painful way. Ditto with another guy he develops a crush on, Tom. How many of us developing homosexuals fell in love with our best friends who were straight? The pain was intense, and captured well by Polito.Read more ›
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That's the question that thirteen year old Bradley Dayton poses to his new friend Jack Paterno. Jack had never met anyone quite like Brad before, and sensed a connection he knew was more than the friendship he felt for other boys and girls in his junior high. Having little in common, except for the fact that they both played in the school band (and thus had to accept being referred to as "Band Fags!" by a certain element in the school) and were caught up in the current popular trends and tastes of the mid 1980's, they nevertheless became best friends, and would be there for each other - with a few detours due to arguments and incompatible "crowds" they'd go with temporarily - throughout their high school days.
The outgoing, "tell it like it is" Brad was an interesting influence on the more conservative and quiet Jack, daring him to put into actions and words some ideas that he would have otherwise kept to himself. Brad had no problem telling Jack everything, including his progress in the self-realization that he was gay. Brad was pretty sure that Jack was too, and tried to draw him "out" at his own pace, usually to be met with Jack's innate self-denial based on the fact that - in this pre-Internet era - young gay boys often had no role models or other gay peers with which they could talk out their feelings. As Brad became more and more open (at least to Jack) about his sexuality, Jack held steadfast to the conviction that, although he admits felt "funny" when he saw a good-looking guy in school or on television, he also felt an attraction to a female character on his favorite soap opera, and enjoyed the company of many of the girls at school, so he therefore must be straight. Even being dragged along by Bradley to a gay bar didn't change that.
I agree that the book is overly long and doesn't really seem to have a cohesive theme. However, "Jack Paterno" graduated from high school one year after I did, and it brought back a lot of memories of high school, some painful, some tremedously happy. If you went to school in the 80's, there are so many wonderful references to popular culture from the banal to the famous. So I give this book a mixed review: more than "it's ok", perhaps a hair on either side of "i like it".
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This book wasn't exactly what I expected. I had just finished reading Geography Club, which was a very fast read, and I was looking for more LGBT coming-of-age high school stories. This novel takes place over 6 years, following the protagonist from middle school to high school. Throughout the book, the reader is given an up close and personal view of the protagonist's thoughts and opinions. The characters were very well written. Each character felt like a real person. I liked how the characters changed throughout the 6 years, as well. There were so many characters in this book, too, that it felt like a real person was telling you his life story. When some characters were brought up later in the book I had to think back about what they had done in past years.
At first, this book is overwhelming and slightly off putting because of the vast amount of information, but once I got into it and knew the characters I was hooked. Some of the scenes have so much raw emotion. The inner thoughts of the protagonist really add to the realness of these scenes.
There are a lot of 80's pop culture references. I was born in 1988. The protagonist graduates high school in 1988. So, I didn't know some of the references. But, I googled a lot of them to understand what the characters were talking about and it really added to the story. I liked the way they were used. It made the book feel even more autobiographical. One reference I didn't get was the use of "dah-dah, dah-dah". At one point I thought it might be the Jaws song, but I am still unsure. I'm looking forward to reading Polito's Lost in the 90's because I won't need as much google assistance.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I want to read Drama Queers! eventually, but I think I'll have to be in the right mood for it. This is an extensive novel, that is definitely worth a read. If you were in high school in the late 80's, you will probably enjoy this book even more. I give it a 4/5.
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Frank Anthony Polito is an award-winning author and playwright. He holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon and a BFA in Theatre from Wayne State. Published novels include BAND FAGS! (2008 "Best Fiction" - InsightOut Book Club), DRAMA QUEERS! (2009 Lambda Literary Award), REMEMBERING CHRISTMAS (featuring the sequel to BAND FAGS!), LOST IN THE '90s, and THE SPIRIT OF DETROIT.
His plays ANOTHER DAY ON WILLOW ST and BAND FAGS! (based on his novel) have been produced in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dayton, Omaha, Annapolis, and New York City, where he resided for 18 years. His other writing has been featured in Instinct magazine and online at The Advocate.com and AfterElton.com. He is also a regular contributor to the popular New York City lifestyle blog Kenneth in the 212.
Frank grew up in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park and currently resides in Pleasant Ridge with his partner, Craig Bentley. Readers can visit him on the web at www.frankanthonypolito.com