Two brisk novellas affably depict the vulnerable, complicated landscape of burgeoning homosexuality.
The title story features the first-person narrative of a young man confused about his sexuality. Besides his staunch Catholic mother and Protestant father, there’s Debbie, Jay’s sister, an observant sibling who recognizes her brother’s gay tendencies even before he does. After a misguided effort to join the priesthood (he’s kicked out by the monsignor for an excessive masturbatory habit), Jay enters college with the hopes of becoming a teacher. A night of flirtatious binge drinking with his handsome, fit-bodied, straight new roommate turns mean-spirited when he outs Jay as the “dorm faggot.” A desperate suicide attempt soon follows and fails, but Jay’s heart is rescued by cute, cocky classmate Benson Singer, whom he brings home to meet his Mom. Eventually, both boys help spur students’ rights initiatives across campus. Just as lighthearted but more maturely drawn is the second tale, “David,” about two freshman dorm mates, wide-eyed Brad and carefree former-GI Mike, who become eagerly attached to each other as friends, then as lovers. While Mike recalls stories of his time as a soldier to an obsessed Brad, their attraction blossoms and is eventually consummated, but self-doubt and a horrific tragedy cast a grim shadow on their relationship. Although both stories have contemporary inspiration and carefully skirt explicit language, the plots seem underdeveloped, their potential stifled by brevity and, particularly in the title tale, a dependence on clichéd tropes: Jay feels the need to reach out to Benson “and hug him while saying, ‘Where have you been all my life?’ ” Strained dialogue aside, Russell’s dynamic characters buzz with moxie and emerge as the kind of hip, cheeky chaps best appreciated by a YA audience, gay or otherwise.
A breezy, pleasing double dose of collegiate gay fiction, serviceably written and easily digested.