World of Normal Boys – Review

world of normal boys

After being rather disappointed with “Dream Boy” I sought a better LGBT themed book. I came across “The World of Normal Boys” by K.M. Soehnlein, and I was immediately intrigued.

Brief Synopsis which is as Spoiler Free as one could make it:

The book was pretty much what I had been wanting. It is written in a bizarre present tense, and it tells the story of a thirteen-year-old boy named Robin living in New Jersey in the late 1970’s. Robin is sensitive, bookish, and very much aware that he is not a part of “The World of Normal Boys.” His younger brother, who is into sports, causing mischief, and essentially everything Robin is not torments him, his mother and he take special trips into New York City where they go to museums, and Robin has begun to realize his interest in men is not platonic but sexual in nature. Robin also has to deal with a typical challenge for freshmen, what crowd to go with in high school. Robin is tempted to turn from his identity as an academic to join the dark side of the burnouts, who skip class and smoke cigarettes.

These seemingly everyday problems are quickly made more complicated. Robin, his sister, younger brother, and annoying cousin are all engaged in a bitter struggle on the playground equipment. As Robin tries to stop his brother and cousin from tormenting his sister, Robin’s brother is thrown off the equipment, and falls to the pavement. He receives a spinal injury, and is taken to the hospital where he lies in a coma.

The stress for caring for Robin’s younger brother strains the family, and things once left unsaid arise to the surface. His father is blunt about his disappointment that Robin is not like his younger brother, and blames his mother and those special trips. The mother is reminded that she moved from her exciting city life to raise a family in the suburbs. All the while, Robin’s sister has become increasingly more Catholic, and has taken to keeping a constant vigil for her comatose brother.

Finding the family environment often too hard to handle, Robin often leaves the house for hours, skips school, and is generally missing. It is on these Missing in Action excursions that the story I was most interested occurs. Robin gets lost, and is in an area known for being unsafe, when he spots a kid from school. The two bond over their hatred of gym, but Robin must now choose whether to ditch school and join his new burnout friend, or remain a good student. Robin opts to skip school, and the two boys escape to an abandoned aviary, where they smoke weed, and Robin has his first boy on boy encounter.

Thoughts:

The title of this book, and the references of being outside the “World of Normal Boys” was one that tugged at my heart strings. All too often I felt much like Robin, and I too was willing to sacrifice my status of being a brain in order to run with a more interesting crowd. Reading about Robin’s adventures with the burnout kids were my favorite. The fact that the kids sexually experimented while “under the influence” of weed, rang quite true. Especially since Robin has to face the fact that while he wanted to do more, the other kids viewed it as merely getting off rather than an expression of desire.

This issue is normally treated as a “cover” in most gay novels, wherein the resistant one finally fesses up that he was doing it because he wanted the person not just the orgasm. Whereas this normally makes for wonderful resolutions, it is a rare reality. Many “normal boys” are curious, and even those who engage in sexually explicit acts, are entirely capable of doing so to sate their curiosity and hormones. This is true with heterosexual escapades just as it is true with homosexual ones. Therefore I enjoyed Soehnlein’s willingness to give us a window into how strange experiences like this can be.

Soehnlein’s story kept me reading, but I was a little impatient with the family side of the story. However, Robin certainly changes and develops throughout the story in a way that is both believable and captivating. I would thoroughly enjoy knowing more about Robin’s later life.

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