I don’t normally write book reviews as my principal occupation — being a professional political reporter usually manages to overwhelm all other creative types of writing I’d love to indulge in, including the occasional foray into the “arts and humanities.”
Thus, it is with great pleasure that I am writing these words about a book I was recently given to read by a young gay activist who volunteers with a local DC organization, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League.
Normally I don’t wax poetic about fictional novels written about adolescents and in particular any novel regarding and portraying LGBTQ youth.
Principally owing to the fact that in many instances the plots are weak, the writing is trite, contrived, and hammers the reader with tired clichés, and there’s often gratuitous sexual situations thrown in that serve no real purpose whatsoever. I hold the opinion that those particular situations are often devoid of functional purpose that possibly could carry a plot or storyline to its logical conclusion.
Oh, and this is especially true of the online versions that seemingly litter the landscape of the web. Which brings me to a point that the young volunteer pointed out to me. There’s not a tremendous amount of resources outside of those online stories that LGBTQ youth can utilize or even find for that matter. Not to mention being written in the first place!
Quite frankly, there is a dearth of places for LGBTQ young people to head, to obtain quality fictional prose about youth like themselves in romantic, adventure, or science fictional settings.
Stories about LGBTQ youth just do not abound even on Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s websites and the retail prospects are bleaker still as evidenced by the demise of almost all of the small independent LGBT bookstores in the United States over the past few years.
I don’t know about your experiences with the “Big Box” bookstore chains, but the LGBT sections I’ve run across are only a couple of shelves and not a lot of selection especially any type of title that possibly would interest an average teen.
Yet, here comes this outstanding book by a very respected high school librarian in a small Chicago area charter school.
“Love Drugged” is the story of Jamie Bates, a Chicago high school freshman who is gay but in the closet.
He wants nothing more than to fit in, but when a classmate learns his secret, he fears his life will be ruined. Jamie tries to keep his cover by getting involved with a beautiful female student, and that relationship leads him to discover an untested drug that can “cure” homosexuality.
“Love Drugged” is written by James Klise, who runs the Northtown Academy Charter High School library, routinely works with students on their writing and advises the school’s student run literary journal and Northtown’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Klise, who himself is gay, said it wasn’t until he began working at Northtown eight years ago that memories of his own struggles over his sexuality resurfaced.
He said his being gay has never been an issue at the school, but he recognizes there are places in the America where his contract most likely could be terminated for writing a book like “Love Drugged.”
Told with a dark sense of humor, the novel gives readers a firsthand look at the pressures closeted gay teens can face and the lengths they might go to in order to conform with what they believe is the norm.
Through Jamie, Klise describes “those harrowing years between ages 10 and 18, when the meanest, most dreaded, completely acceptable, worst insult for any boy was to be called simply ‘fag.'”
“When I was in high school,” Klise said, “there wasn’t a single openly gay student in my school. I think a lot of us were just sort of clueless. We didn’t even see it as an option.”
I found the novel to be an easy read and believable — let me think… normal? Yeah, I’ll go with normal.
Any reader could very easily could relate to the trials and tribulations of this kid as he tried to factor in all the events in his life with the need for instant resolution, instant gratification, and bravado one normally would associate with living in today’s world as a teenager. I’ll add with emphasis especially a teen-aged reader.
I read a great article recently regarding the novel, where in the interview portion, Brock Goldflies, a straight 18-year-old senior and vice president of Northtown’s Gay-Straight Alliance said Northtown’s students view Klise as an educator and an intellectual resource, not as a gay man.
He said the librarian’s book nailed the modern-day high school experience, particularly the uncomfortable emotions gay students or teens unsure of their sexuality have to work through.
“One of the main things about the book is the idea of trying to diminish homosexuality as a foreign source, as something bad,” Goldflies said. “It was really unjust, this idea of taking a pill to change who you are. It’s a human soul that it’s trying to get rid of.”
Goldflies said he believes there really are people who would be all for such a “remedy,” people who think homosexuality is an affliction that can be cured.
Klise’s motivation for exploring his own life experiences and weaving them into the fictional, modern-day world of Jamie Bates is that reality which lies at the heart of the novel’s theme. He said he hopes teenagers, both gay and straight, will read the book and take from it a sense that the best way to be “normal” is to simply be yourself.
If you’re a teenager reading my dreck and drivel treatise right about now, or even a teen’s parent… go buy the book! Seriously, its a story that is not only very enjoyable, but it tweaks a person’s humanity and conscience in a way that could only improve a person’s outlook on life.