Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Totally Joe

Biblio Bits Totally Joe by James Howe, Ginee Seo Books, 2005 (ISBN9780689839573)

Reading Level/Interest Age 910 lexile/Ages 12-14

Genre Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
Thirteen year-old Joe has a writing assignment: an "alphabiography," meaning that it's supposed to be the story of his life from A to Z. But when he finishes it, he realizes there's a lot of pretty personal stuff in there, and though he doesn't censor himself, he begs his teacher to handle it with care (and NOT make him read any of it out-loud!). Joe is gay. He's always known that he was different from other boys: he doesn't make armpit farts, he is not an expert on cars or acting tough, and he doesn't use the word faggot all day long. Joe wore dresses when he was little and he liked to play with Barbies, but now that he's in middle school, he's thinking about his friends (straight and supportive), avoiding the name-calling bully, and his first boyfriend. But his boyfriend Colin is not so comfortable with being gay, so their relationship is "in the closet." When some rumors start circulating in school that Joe and Colin were caught kissing, Colin gets cold feet. This is a story about first crushes, friendship, and family. It's about being different and being O.K. with that. Joe is totally himself.

Critical Evaluation
This is an excellent contribution to the genre of queer coming-of-age stories. What is most notable about it is that Joe's family and friends have known his "secret" forever and they love and support him for who he is. He's just Joe, who loves cooking and movie stars and his friends, and who approaches his life with enthusiasm and humor. I also like this book because it is geared to a lower age-group than some other titles in this category, so it would be perfect for a tween who might be exploring or questioning his/her sexual identity in late childhood, or maybe, like Joe, has always known. There is the theme of name-calling and bullying in this book also, but it is resolved for the positive (almost too neatly) when the bully's conservative parents pull him out to attend private school. Ultimately I do wonder if this book isn't a tad wishful: accepting friends and family, supportive school officials---it seems too good to be true for a gay tween. But there is much to recommend here and maybe a hopeful wish for gay tweens everywhere.

Reader's Annotation
Joe is totally himself: funny, fun, a great cook, a good friend, a clever narrator, and---oh! he's also gay. Joe has had a crush on Colin since 5th grade and now it seems like Colin might like him back! What will having a boyfriend be like? Is Joe ready?

Author Information
James Howe was born in 1946 and grew up in upstate New York. He has been married twice: his first wife died, and he divorced his second wife. Howe is a very prolific children's author for books including the Pinky and Rex early reader series and the Bunnicula series. He has received many awards for his books and body of work, recognizing his contributions to the field of children's literature. Howe currently lives in New York with his partner, Mark Davis. He has one daughter from his second marriage. (The information in this author biography is from Gale's Contemporary Authors Online, 2007).

Challenge issues
Joe, our frank and homosexual (or frankly homosexual?) narrator, might be cause for objection in some circles.

Booktalking Ideas
I would focus this booktalk around the supportive network Joe has in his life. His friend Addie starts a campaign to end name-calling at their school because of how Joe is being treated. In 5th grade, at Joe's request, his friend Skeezie tries to teach him how to act like a guy-guy (but gives up, because it's pretty hopeless). His Aunt Pam encourages him to officially "come out" to his family. These are all people who show Joe that he is accepted with their actions and words. We all need a network like Joe's.

Curriculum Ties
This is another great one for the tolerance files: how to be yourself and be O.K. about it. I would want to link this book to a unit on getting to know yourself better, and I think I would borrow shamelessly from Mr. Daly's assignment and have students create an "alphabiography" of their own. The story of your life so far, from A to Z.

Why this book?
Great cover! And a perfect book for tweens about being gay and about being a tween, period.

ALA Notable Children's Book, Older Readers, 2006; Rainbow Lists, Middle/Early YA Fiction, 2008; MSBA Reading List, 2006-2007.

Rockport Public Library owns?

No comments: