A white boy with cerebral palsy feels responsible for the gay classmate he saves from drowning.
When 17-year-old Ryan swims, his wheelchair doesn’t matter. So when he sees a skirted figure jump into the river, he dives to the rescue. To his shock, the figure is Jack, a white boy. Jack, terrified of coming out to his “über-religious” mother, charges Ryan with keeping his suicide attempt a secret. Overwhelmed, Ryan agrees, reluctantly becoming Jack’s confidant. Their entire relationship consists of Jack’s neediness and Ryan’s pity, and this patronizing dynamic insults everyone concerned. Seen only through Ryan’s perspective, Jack is little more than a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety. Nevertheless, Ryan invites Jack to attend Comic Con with him and his white, “pretty much homophobic, relatively racist” best friend, Cody. Though Jack finds acceptance in Comic Con’s open-minded atmosphere, he quickly reverts to an object of pity. Shaw (The Color of Silence, 2013, etc.) compares Ryan’s disability and Jack’s sexuality to show their struggles in a small town, but Ryan misses a glaring parallel: he’s no more Jack’s friend than the “forced helpers” assigned to him in school were his. Ryan is understandably out of his depth, but his martyrdom is also unfair to Jack, who clearly needs mentoring and an honest friendship.
There are far more nuanced portrayals of gay teens out there—this one can be left on the shelf. (Fiction. 13-18)