Saturday, June 16, 2007
A Secret Edge
Our book today is Robin Reardon's “A Secret Edge,” a slim and surprisingly sensual gay coming-of-age novel centering around the personal awakening of high school track star Jason Peele.
When the book opens, Jason is the picture of an ordinary high school student - hanging out at the mall, doing his homework, going on awkward double dates. But he has growing doubts about how normal he is, and the addition of handsome young Raj to his track team fans those doubts into agonies. Raj is gay and far more assertive than Jason, and one of the book’s strong points is how quickly it cuts to the chase (as Raj tells Jason, “we have to [be fast]. We won’t get much time, and we won’t get any encouragement”). Not only are all the book’s various coaches, parents, and extended families soon dealing with the relationship that springs up between Jason and Raj, but our two protagonists waste no time in, er, fraternizing.
Reardon’s prose is clean and light and almost always convincing as Jason’s first person narration (almost: for instance, it’s extremely unlikely any 2007 teenager would refer to something as “the sixty-four thousand dollar question”). And sprinkled throughout the book, usually connected with the physical, sensual aspects of two teenagers falling in love, there are little bursts that very nearly qualify as prose poetry, like when Jason thinks, “I could listen to him talk all day. His voice sings, and he makes consonants sound like something he’s trying to taste with just the tip of his tongue.”
The overall shape of the book’s plot will be familiar to anybody who’s ever read in this particular sub-genre. Some family members are instantly supportive, others take a benign amount of adjusting. Minor misunderstandings (in this case, oddly and interestingly, involving a pocket knife and the teachings of Gandhi) threaten to part our young lovers. Each boy suffers a beating by homophobic thugs. The book’s final scene is both unabashedly melodramatic and undeniably satisfying. Sequels are easily imaginable and would be welcomed here at Stevereads.
The only disturbing thing about the novel is that it needs to be written at all. And yet it does: storylines very similar to this one unfold daily in small towns and big cities across the world, usually containing far less hope and far less honesty than is found in “A Secret Edge.” No matter where you’re reading this, somewhere nearby there’s a young man similar to Jason Peele who cannot make any of the decisions he eventually does - who would lose (or believes he would lose) his family, his friends, and maybe his life if he tried. Despite the proliferation of gay acceptance in American popular culture (an actor on a hit TV show uses a gay slur about a fellow cast member, and not only is that cast member’s career not ruined by it, but the actor is fired for saying it - it’s by such baby-steps that tolerance takes root), we still live in a time when a gay coming-of-age novel that didn't feature a beating would seem unrealistic.
“A Secret Edge” doesn’t join us on our soapbox, of course. It’s busy telling its sweet, intimate story of a good kid falling in love for the first time, and it does so effectively. Here’s hoping the real-life equivalents of that kid find it and draw some measure of courage from it.