Our general response to the book was dislike. Isaac thought it was too mild and full of stereotypes. Timmy, Raj and Roy thought it was too slow. In addition, Timmy didn’t feel for the character perhaps because, as Alexius suggested, the depression was exaggerated although Alex said, “But if I were raped by women, I would die.” The abrupt ending fueled Timmy, Alex and Glenn’s disapproval of the novel. In defense of the book, Roy said that the style is easy and immediate; Alex enjoyed it; Melissa felt the atmosphere is well-written, conjuring a raw and uncomfortable mood. Ernest and Teri came to lend their moral support.
1. Sexuality: Grady – Gay or Not? A few evidence that he is gay: he doesn’t retaliate in the rape (Alexius’s point) but perhaps Grady doesn’t want “his anus to be torn” (Timmy, 2011). Grady dreams of Fred (Roy’s point); Grady lets Mr Howell touch him (Alex). But he’s also not gay in the sense that he is always in love with women. Alex brought up an excellent point that perhaps the rape is too traumatic and Grady cannot reconcile that his (gay?) sexuality can be so monstrous. Alex also stated that Grady’s sexuality is ambiguous. Roy suggested that perhaps the author wants us to think through the ambiguity.
Aaron claimed that the novel precludes the possibility of Grady being bisexual. Why? Because, he further argued, the novel makes it very, very hard for us to see that gay is normal. Grady’s struggles are partly struggles over his sexuality; if he could think that it is alright to be gay, then he wouldn’t struggle so much. Grady is presented to the readers as a very “straight” teenager, always in love with girls, and it is the rape that screws him up. Only in homophobic societies is heterosexuality taken a criterion for normality. Aaron also brought up several examples of homophobia: no one who is homophobic is punished for it. For instance, the homophobic cop receives no censure. Grady’s parents are more worried about Grady’s sexuality than his well-being. Even Jess, who arguably is punished by getting into a fight with gay Fred, gets off rather lightly and is unrepentant of his homophobia. The rapists, who set out to punish “faggots,” get away. What are the rapists, anyway? If they are gay, isn’t it a homophobic stereotype that gay people rape? If they are straight, the message behind the book seems to be, “Be homophobic anyway, you won’t get punished.”
The rest of the group disagreed. Melissa, Alex, Timmy, and Raj all voiced that the novel is a realistic portrayal of homophobic society in general. Isaac claimed that there is a positive portrayal of gay people (Fred). The reason why Aaron was ambivalent about the novel in the first place is the confused garble. What is the author trying to say? On the surface, there is positive portrayal but if you look deeper into the plot, homophobia surfaces: this is the same for issues of gender and race.
2. Gender: Aaron claimed that the major female characters in the book are colorless and known only for their beauty or art. Art for girls? That’s a stereotype. Melissa countered that it is because the girls are seen from Grady’s perspective. But, Aaron said, how does the fact change anything? The message seems to be that it is alright to objectify women. But the group disagreed.
3. Race: Timmy notes the stereotypical behavior of a fast-talking black boy is racist. Alexius notes that Jess may be putting on a brave front to hide his vulnerability.
1. Timmy let out a high-pitched wheeee when talking about Fred.
2. Aaron felt very strongly that Jess has no redeemable qualities, a point the rest of the group disagreed. Aaron claimed that Jess’s sarcasm is overboard, unwarranted and hurtful. And, as Gwendolyn rightly points out, Jess is still homophobic and sexist despite his minority status.
3. Raj and Alex liked Pearl. Timmy asked, “Why? Is it because she’s a magician? Can wear 2 layers and not sweat?”
3. Timmy and Aaron had no sympathy for Grady who is like bad actress Joanne Peh and couldn’t decide what role he is: is he a rape victim or a nutcase? Alex found it interesting that most of us cannot stand Grady’s depression. Isaac claimed that it is because the rape scene is handled too mildly. If it’s more hardcore, we can feel more for Grady.
1. Ending (I): Alex elucidated that Grady’s breakthrough comes when he can reconcile the past and the future, to accept, confess and face the fact that he is raped. In a way, like gay people coming out, Grady is coming out as a rape victim. Aaron wondered whether this was patronizing, as if Grady is in AA’s 12-step recovery program.
2. Ending (II): Alexius had a unique interpretation of the ending. He claimed that Fred’s boyfriend may be one of the rapists. Aaron saw the usage of the word “shimmer” as homophobic–why couldn’t the author use “unfix” or “fluid” instead of such a disco-ball description?
3. Birds: What’s up with the ubiquitous bird metaphor? Roy claimed the bird may represent the mental trauma. Alex asked if there are birds during the rape. “Three,” Aaron answered.
4. Self-eroticizing: Why does Grady keep touching himself? Melissa said it’s a mental thing; Alex claimed it is the only comfort he has; touching himself is a blue blanket, commented Isaac.
5. Rape Divided: Roy asked why the rape is slowly flashed out throughout the book. Raj replied Grady doesn’t want to think about it but the memory keeps resurfacing.
6. Depth of character: We all found that there is no depth to the characters, even for Grady. Melissa explained that perhaps we are meant to read the novel as such, that Grady is distanced from the reader and this distance emphasizes the alienation he faces.
In the end, our opinions of the book remained unchanged. Alex still enjoyed the book although he admitted there are some stereotypes. Timmy was XXX Fred. Glenn felt for Grady. Roy said there is no plot. Ernest claimed it is Prozac Nation meets St Augustine and was glad he didn’t read this. He said, there are moments of beauty in our other book club books, but this one doesn’t. Aaron concluded that it seems that the author has good intentions and tries to be as generous and liberal as she can but her work cannot transcend the ideology she’s trapped in, showing slippages of homophobia, sexism and racism.
We’d like to thank Raj for hosting us and Timmy for helping us access the book.