Jules: Last week we talked gender politics and feminism à la E. Lockhart. This week it’s gender and sexuality and identity, issues deftly explored in the debut novel from Meagan Brothers, a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet who, according to her bio, has made a name for herself in New York City’s spoken-word scene.
Apparently, this first novel of Brothers’, Debbie Harry Sings in French, is being released today (Henry Holt); Eisha and I shared an ARC of this title, which is why we’re able to tell you about it now (and the fact that we’re telling you about it on its very release day is a stroke of luck. We’re not normally this organized.) And, for the record, quoted excerpts in this post are subject to change, since we read an advance copy. Oh and also: As always, some plot spoilers are included below.
Brothers tells the story of sixteen-year-old Johnny. His father is dead, and his mother—as a result—descended into a depression she’s only now stepping out of when the novel opens. Johnny is picked on at his high school in Florida for wearing eyeliner and being all-around left-of-center, and he mostly hangs with his best friend, Terry. Eventually, Johnny ends up in rehab for alcoholism after his very own near-death experience (which impacts him — “some of the other Goth kids I knew were always talking about death in a weird, detached kind of way. It was like they wanted a zombie-movie version of it, not the real, messy, emergency-room version. I thought like that, too, for a while. But something changed, and I couldn’t think that way anymore.”)
Johnny’s mother sends him to live with his paternal uncle and his daughter (“Bug”) in South Carolina. It’s there that Johnny meets Maria. And Reading Rants put it so well that I must quote them here:
“It’s Love and Rockets at first sight, except for the troubling fact that Maria initially thought Johnny was gay. Why? Just because he likes to Robert-Smith-it up a little? Johnny knows he’s not gay, or he wouldn’t dig Maria so much. But what do you call it when you like girls, but you secretly want to try on that little white dress from the thrift store that looks exactly like the one Debbie Harry wears on the cover of Parallel Lines?”
I’m sorry, but that “Love and Rockets at first sight” bit made me happy. I used to be a fan when I myself was in high school.
So, right. Focus, Julie . . . Johnny falls for Maria and also falls hard for Blondie’s music (“Listening to Debbie Harry sing the French part of ‘Sunday Girl’ was somehow more reassuring than anything the counselors had told me so far”) — and Blondie’s “tough, but…really beautiful” stage presence. “It’s not like I just think of Debbie and, bang, I’m cured,” he tells his guidance counselor at school. “It’s . . . I dunno, meditation or something. If I’m in tough situation, I think about how cool and tough she is, and I try to be cool and tough, too.” Finding strength in that persona and how her music makes him feel, he eventually takes it a step further by dressing as her and, ultimately, entering a drag show. He also learns more about his father than he ever knew before while staying at his uncle’s.
So, what’d you think, Eisha? I was really wow’ed by this one, and if this is Brothers’ first book, I can’t wait to see what she does next. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but there was one part of this book that I thought was so beautiful, I had to put the book down and just savor it for a moment. A great read overall, I thought. What about you? Read the rest of this entry �