on June 29, 2004
A few years ago when I went to vote at my old high school, The GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) was holding a bake sale outside the polling area. "Times have changed" was my immediate thought, knowing that when I attended school there, a GSA would never have even dared to exist. The fact that a book such as GEOGRAPHY CLUB could be published and not be all that controversial, at least in this neck of the woods, confirms that times have changed.
It is a first person narrative about a high school student named Kevin who knows he is gay. While he is not celebrating his sexual preference, he is not loathing it either. He discovers there are other gay students in his school and they devise a way to meet: by forming a club no one will want to join, a geography club (hence the title). There are many ups and downs for the people involved, and lessons to be learned, but sharing them would probably ruin the story.
Reviewers in print have both praised and panned the book, as have reviewers on Amazon.com. The book is an easy and enjoyable read though it will probably not stand the test of time as an all time classic for young people, but it does serve an important purpose. As I wondered what merits the book has, my first thought turned to gay readers. Will gay readers find characters they can identify with in this book? Perhaps. Since the characters are likeable but flawed, this is a possibility, but it could also be viewed as a bit superficial. Yet as I thought more about it, I realized that the book does make a significant contribution to adolescent literature. Readers are used to gay characters who are self depreciating outcasts who are the constant targets of bullies. None are members of the drama club either (though one does love Disney musicals). The gay characters in GEOGRAPHY CLUB are not stereotypes, they are typical high schools students who want the same thing that straight high school students want and if this book can help people see this wile providing an enjoyable read, it has more than accomplished something important as we strive toward understanding in today's world.
on August 2, 2003
Russel, a gay sophomore in high school, goes to an Internet chat room and meets "GayTeen" who is from his home town and even goes to his school! They agree to meet by the playing field at school that night. The person is a very popular jock named Kevin Land. Kevin just that day had teased Russel after gym class about being a "fag," and Russel had successfully bluffed. Kevin befriends Russel and Russel gets to visit the "Land of the Popular" and does some things of which he is not proud, including joining in teasing of the most unpopular boy in school, Brian. Russel's best friend Gunnar gets him to go on double dates, so that Gunnar can have a girlfriend. Russel comes out to his other best friend, Min, and she is bisexual. The gay/lesbian/bisexual kids start a club, naming it the Georgraphy Club, so that it will not attract any other kids. One day a black girl, Belinda, says she wants to join. Russel befriends Brian, who did him a favor. There were some intrusive asides to the reader in this book, and there were moments when I would have liked to know more about what Russel was thinking and feeling. Otherwise, this is a fine book about a gay teenager learning about friendship, forgiveness, and integrity.
on July 27, 2003
What the other reviews here omit is that GEOGRAPHY CLUB is also an interesting look at the struggle between different kinds of students -- the jocks vs. the wimps, the popular kids vs. the nerds, in addition to the gays vs. the straights. Russel, the book's hero (and narrator), has to come to terms with momentarily discovering what it's like to briefly be part of the popular, athletic clique, or being honest with himself and what he really is. And the book also goes into detail about the pressures high school kids have to go through today, with sex, drugs, grades, and everything else. Think of it as a novelized version of BREAKFAST CLUB for the 2000s, only with gay kids instead of misfits.
My only minor criticism is that I felt like there were a lot of subtle details omitted from this good (but short) novel. For example, the adults in the story are practically invisible. We don't know much of the lead character's home life, if he has any brothers or sisters, or what his parents or upbringing is like. We don't know anything about the town he lives in (other than a few sparse clues about a beach house and cold weather). And the final denouement between Russel and his first love left me flat. This is one of the rare novels in which I wish the writer had given us another 100 pages to tell us more... but who knows? Maybe Hartinger will someday be inspired to write a sequel.
That having been said, GEOGRAPHY CLUB is a very poignant, well-told story with thoughtful insights into the characters, and dead-on accurate dialogue. I think anybody who's gay, or knows what it's like to be different, will come away from the story with something positive. Recommended with reservations.
on July 16, 2003
Remember all of those social cliques in high school? Remember the pain of feeling left out? Remember feeling as if you were the only one who felt as you did? Brent Hartinger does, and he captures those feelings honestly and effectively in his new book for teens, "Geography Club".
Russel is your Joe Average teen struggling with being gay in admist all of the usual teenage angst that comes with high school. Russel's convinced he's the only gay teen in the school, until one night, in a chat room, he discovers another. They plan a secret rendezvous, and Russel is genuinely shocked to discover the identity of that person. Thus starts the plot of "Geography Club".
As soon as Russel discovers other gay teens in his high school, they attempt to form a support group. Hoping to dissuade others from joining, they dub it the moniker "Geography Club".
What ensues is an interesting, intriguing story. Clearly written for teenagers, the style of writing is appropriate for the audience, if not particularly deep for adults. The characters do sparkle alive, and there never was a false moment in any character, especially with Brain Bund. Brain plays the schoolï¿½s nerdy loser, who is at the receiving end of all the schoolï¿½s pranks. Hartinger does a great job making him as three-dimensional as the rest, and you feel real sympathy for his pain.
What this book does for adults is evoke long lost feelings about what it was like in high school for those of us struggling to keep ourselves a secret. But more importantly, what this book does for kids is offer a ray of light, an outreach to them. This is the perfect book for the gay kid living in a small town in Anywhere U.S.A., who needs someone or something to identify with. Had this book been around when I was in high school, my life may have been much different.
Thanks to Hartinger for writing such a daring, honest book, and for creating the Geography Club to begin with!
on April 6, 2003
GEOGRAPHY CLUB, Brent Hartinger's debut novel, is a realistic coming-of-age story. It deals with a high school boy named Russel who realizes he isn't the only one at school questioning his sexuality. He along with a few others want to talk more about it, but are scared to speak openly or to create an Alliance that everyone would know about. Instead, they form the Geography Club, thinking that no one will want to join something that boring and that their secrets will be safe.
This very quick read takes an honest look at one young man coming to terms with who he is. The protagonist is not infalliable; the story is not preachy. You want to hug Russel once second and slap him the next as he goes through the ups and downs of high school. At times, he caves in to peer pressure; at others, he stands up for the truth.
Ultimately, this book is not about being gay or straight, being a boy or a girl, but about being who you are. We've all felt alienated at one point or another, and we've all felt alone when surrounded by people. This book should be an eye-opener for students and adults alike.
on March 25, 2003
Though a fictional piece about a group of teen-aged gay comrades, author Brent Hartinger's "Geography Club" is less another coming-of-age story and more a reflection of the sometimes ponderous social and educational restrictions on today's teens struggling to validate themselves despite their same-sex preferences. The "Geography Club" here is intended to do just that, but peer pressure and rejection force it to become Goodkind High School's Gay-Straight-Bisexual Alliance. Given current court challenges to some schools' prohibition against such alliances, Hartinger seems to have tapped into a contemporary nerve. It's a realistic portrayal, and Hartinger's characters - Russel Middlebrook and school baseball stud Kevin Land, both of whom give in to a mutual attraction to each other - can be Everyman's teen-aged kid. Russel and Kevin, working hard to keep their covert relationship hidden, nonetheless are found out by three other teens who, coincidentally, are also gay. In trying for some degree of acceptance, even from each other, the enclave establishes the "Geography Club," designed purposely to be so boring that no one will join it, thus protecting the hidden purpose of the club. It's only when social forces collide to bring the small gay group out into the daylight that the "Geography Club" meets a challenge from peer and educational prejudices. Hartinger's character development is incredible, and his injection of occasional expletives are by no means gratuitous but instead serve as a mirror of real life. Though the reader need not be gay to try to benefit from the book's sublimial message, it is a potentially important wakeup for the gay teen struggling for peer, parental and self-acceptance, and to parents who might get a clue to how crushing a weight their childrens' closets can be.
on June 8, 2003
Geography Club was a great and enjoyable read (I devoured it in a sitting) that I would recommend to everyone, especially people who need to become more accepting of homosexuality. It would be educational for many teens who have encountered only intolerance and might realize Russel isn't really any different from them.
Although I liked this book a lot, I felt that some elements of the story were a bit simplistic and certain things vaguely annoyed me. Why were his parents only passingly mentioned? And other things I can't quite put my finger on. All the characters seemed to be black and white, good and bad. Kimberly was evil. Most of the jocks were evil. Sometimes it felt a bit stereotypical.
But all in all, I think this was a good book.
on June 15, 2003
I read this book in one day after reading so many great reviews! It's the funny, sad, and all-too-real flashback to high school. This is a great book for anyone, and not just young adults.
on January 2, 2004
Well written, realistic gay teen fiction that harbors on humorous and heart warming all at the same time. A joy to read.