White high school senior Ben Wireman wants to think about other things besides his hearing aids—like partying, soccer, and putting off his college applications.
His Filipino best friend, Tyler Nuson, has always helped him blend in, but Tyler's increasingly volatile behavior and seemingly homophobic attitude foreshadow a troubling secret, driving Ben away. Tyler's lashing out at what he fears mirrors Ben's aversion to other deaf students, but Ben's hang-ups are more easily (and predictably) cured by the neglected, blue-haired, part-Japanese, casually rebellious Ilona Pierce. À la Ron Koertge's Stoner & Spaz (2001), Ilona snaps Ben out of his self-consciousness with sex, drugs, and her free-spirited outlook. Tyler's fears, rooted in the complexities of sexuality and abuse, are less neatly resolved. Kaufman believably portrays uncertainties surrounding sex and sexuality, discussing perceptions of abuse and positioning Tyler and Ben's relationship against assumptions that close male friendships are sexual. However, some lines are left too blurred. Ilona happens to frequent a primarily gay club; it's unclear whether that indicates her orientation or—more troublingly—her edginess, given her stock "worldly tough girl" vibes. While Tyler's reason for questioning his sexuality is understandable, it's also inaccurate, and the characters don't recognize that quite firmly enough for such a seldom-explored issue.
A well-intentioned testament to letting freak flags fly, marred by ambiguity in the wrong places. (Fiction. 14-18)