Tuesday, October 13, 2009

David Inside Out by Lee Bantle

Driving along Minnehaha Parkway on my way to see Kick, I felt like Archie going over the Veronica's.

Opening sentence from David Inside Out by Lee Bantle.

The most important person you have to come out to is yourself. Sometimes you are the first person to know; sometimes you are the last.

David Inside Out by Lee Bantle is the story of one boy, David, and the first half of his junior year when he comes to terms with being gay and comes out. But it's also the story of David's long time friend Eddie, who was never really in the closet, and of David's would-be-boyfriend Sean, who cannot come to grips with who he is.

It's not always a pretty story, coming out. There can be unforeseen casualties. Eddie's father will never have the relationship with his son that he wants. Sean's mother may never know how much grief her homophobia she causes her son. (While it's David who calls the 24-hour suicide hot line, it's Sean who really needs to.) When he finally comes out to her, David nearly loses his best friend Kick, the girl who wants more from him than he is able to give.

David takes a long time to come out to himself. He tries not to be gay. Self-administered adversion therapy, a rubber band around his wrist that he can snap whenever he thinks a thought he shouldn't, doesn't work. Forcing himself to become intimate with his girlfriend, Kick, doesn't work either. He has to close his eyes and pretend he's with Sean. Actual intimacy with Sean ought to be all David needs to know that he's gay, but Sean says he's just fooling around, like all guys do. Sean insists he isn't gay. David tries to do the same by rejecting his friend Eddie who is trying to form a gay/straight alliance at their school. Fortunately for David he finds a 24-hour hotline for gay and lesbian youth where a sympathetic counselor tells him about a local gay/lesbian book store. There David finds a world of gay people that he can join.

David Inside Out has been the subject of some controversy. I admit I was a bit shocked by how frank the sex scenes were. While doing research for this post, I stumbled on a discussion over at YA Fabulous that left me wondering if we'd read the same book. It turns out there was at least one sex scene that was so subtly portrayed I missed it altogether. (That happens all too often for me.) There is enough sex in David Inside Out to prevent it becoming a part of a middle school library, but nothing juniors and seniors should be shielded from in my view. I do think the characters portrayed in David Inside Out are realistic and their actions are believable. They do not always do or say what we'd like them to, or what they should, but they are in high school after all. They're not saints. Just a group of teenagers trying to find their way in the world. Sometimes they don't do a very good job.

I don't often find myself wanting a sequel, but I'd like to know what happens to David, Kick and Eddie. I came to like all three of them by the novel's close. I don't think the future holds much promise for Sean, but who knows. Redemption is always a possibility.

And once you've come out, things tend to get easier.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of David Inside Out from the author whom I will be interviewing here tomorrow. Please stop by again. For a review of Mr. Bantle's earlier novel, Diving for the Moon go here.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Bravo to the author for tackling the difficult subjects. Even if one young man reads this and makes his "coming out" journey a little easier, then it is worth it. It really makes me sad at all the heartbreak and anguish expended by those who are touched by this issue. I can't say it was all that easy for our family for awhile.

Missy said...

I applaud Mr. Bantle for writing a novel about a sensitive subject. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to know that you are gay and to feel like you have to hide it, or force yourself not to be. I recently read a novel similar to this called Lawnboy. I enjoyed it, and I will give this one a try as well. Great review!

Thomas said...

This looks very interesting to me. Based on the first line you quote it sounds like it takes place in Minnesota.

I came out in 1984 when I was 16 in high school in small town Minnesota. I could tell you some stories.

C.B. James said...

Sandy, I think it's getting easier and easier thesedays. But there are still difficult moments. Myself, I ended up losing contact with one of the two brothers who proved too religious to tolerate my wedding.

Missy, Lawnboy is a very familiar title. I've read so many of them at this point that they do blend in together. There's a wonderful one from Australia called The Blue Lawn that I read years ago.

Thomas, This might be the story of your life. Mr. Bantle grew up in Minnesota and did base much of David Inside Out on his own life.

ds said...

This is such a difficult and sensitive issue that I never know what to say about books like this, except that I am glad they are being written. With luck--and thanks to you--they will be read. With luck, they will touch someone's soul and make a life easier.