A road trip from Seattle to San Francisco yields friendship and the best uncles ever.
When 16-year-old Rusty sees new boy Beau appear at her school, she’s relieved—he’ll be “fresh meat” for the bullies who torment Rusty for being fat. She’s right; they paint “Die Fag” on Beau’s locker and beat him up. Desperate, he decides to run away in search of his gay uncle in San Francisco. Rusty goes with him, as does Lee, a girl who’s sex-shamed at school and happens to be sleeping with a teacher. Their road trip is a patchwork of West Coast travelogue (including both nature appreciation and Twilight chatter when they visit Forks, Washington) and snappy narration. The teens’ growing fondness for one another is more believable than Rusty’s voice, which sometimes feels forced in its snark and is peppered with a hodgepodge of references: David Bowie and Byrne, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Macklemore, SpongeBob. Most textured are Beau’s uncle Frankie and his acerbic partner, Oscar, in San Francisco. The uncles bring complexity, realism and AIDS history into a text that’s otherwise entertaining but too quick to sum up emotional points (“Sometimes your soul decides who your family is, not just your DNA”).
Pair this love letter to the West Coast and to the victims and survivors of the gay American AIDS crisis with David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (2013). (Fiction. 13-16)