By Jeff Walsh
With "Totally Joe," James Howe plays with structure and the absence of conflict in a gay teen story. The book is written as a year-long class assignment called an alphabiography, where students have to write 26 entries about their life, starting with the letter A, each with a life lesson that related to what they wrote about. So, by the time we finish the book, we know 13-year-old Joe Bunch from A to Z.
Reading this book, I kept thinking of the Justin character from Ugly Betty. You do watch Ugly Betty, don't you? It is so much fun. Anyway, on Ugly Betty, Justin is Betty's nephew who is just accepted by the family, even though, it seems pretty clear he is completely gay. He is played perfectly by Mark Indelicato.
In any event, that's sort of how Joe is. Even though the assignment is for his teacher, he decides not to sugarcoat it or lie, so only a few pages in "B" is for boy, and he writes: "Today in gym Kevin Hennessey called me a girl. I reminded him that we're trying to stop name-calling in our school, and he said, 'I'm not caling you a name, faggot, I'm calling you a girl, which you are.' I didn't even bother to point out that 'faggot' is a name. What is the point?"
I just loved that being called faggot had no effect on him. He is comfortable in his skin, knows he's smarter and more evolved than the idiots in his school, and just carries on with his life. Hell, letter C is for Colin, the guy he has a crush on. Is it realistic? Maybe not, but it's certainly engaging and refreshing to read.
This is a fun, worthwhile book to read and it totally lives up to the title. He is just totally Joe, living his life to the best of his ability. Even if it seems a bit unreal, it's a good way to question how much of our conflicts in life are actually reactions to the energy we put out there. If we approaching life as though it were supposed to be fun and work out for us, I truly believe more of it would. Besides, if you never try it, how can you assume that's automatically untrue?
That said, does anyone know an x-word other than xylophone?