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A Fantastic First Step
on March 10, 2014
Brent Hartinger's "Geography Club" is told by protagonist, Russell Middlebrook, a closeted gay teenager who is determined to keep his sexuality a secret from everyone. Like with any high school, status is important, and coming out of the closet was a surefire way to be at the bottom of the barrel. The jocks in the locker room are like a completely different species to him, and even his two best friends, Min and Gunmar, are kept in the dark about his attraction to boys.
It's a chance meeting that emerges from an anonymous online conversation that Russell discovers that Kevin Land, jock extraordinaire and Mr. Popular, is gay. It is this encounter that changes Russell's life, and what leads to the establishment of the geography club, which is really the ultra-secret club for Goodkind High School gay students. The five members include Russell and Kevin, Min and her secret girlfriend Therese, and Alex.
This story explores the importance of community, finding strength in your peers when you feel isolated from the rest of the world. It's definitely an experience many gay teens struggle with, debating the aftermath of coming out while trying to find someone else like them. And the members of the geography club coming from different "lands" (social groups and their respective levels of popularity) illustrates this struggle very well.
What I think is really capturing about this book is Russell's narrative voice. It provides the story with a very familiar style, and you're able to really get into the protagonist's mind. And it's more than just Russell navigating who he is as a young gay man, but as a teenager with friends. His moments with Gunmar are particularly illuminating, painting his friend as more than just the weird guy who can't get a girlfriend. Similarly for Min, you really get an idea of who she is through her interactions with Russell. So although Russell is the main character and the story is told from his perspective, the story isn't just about him.
It's about friendship, and bullying, and self-identity beyond sexuality.
If I had to make one complaint, it was that I wanted to see more of Kevin. I feel like Min and Gunmar really grow into characters in their own right, and wanted to see a little more dimension from Kevin. Although, that being said, I love the way we see Kevin through Russell's eyes, and how his feelings shape his behavior, because Russell's reactions ring very true for a high school student experiencing his first romance.
I would definitely recommend this book, and look forward to watching these characters grow as I read the other books in this series.