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Boys Will Be… Knitters and Lovers and Funny, Oh My
Boys Don’t Knit, T.S. Easton
Feiwel and Friends, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy
It’s a twofer Monday, today, with two delightfully warm, funny, and frankly tender tales of boys grappling with what it means to be a boy, and also what it means to fall for someone.
Well well. I just wrote 900 words on these two wonderful books, and WordPress ate it. All of it below the read more tag, in fact. Despite the fact that I had saved it over and over. (Insert sad face emoji here, please.) And there is very little I find harder than writing something over when I’ve already written it, because the second go is never as good as the first.
So apologies in advance, because what was a long post with a lot of details is going to now be a recap of that post. (And I don’t know about you, but I prefer to see a thing first hand before I read the recap.)
Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda:
First, the cover. Fantastic. I said this at length and with some other thoughts about covers in general, but this is a recap, and the point of that paragraph was that this is a fab cover and deserves praise. (See also: comments on Joy’s post of last week.)
Second, the dynamics of the social group and the family: really good stuff. The friend dynamics were especially spot-on. And on the family dynamic front, one of my favorite coming out scenes, maybe ever. Also on the pro side, Simon’s sexuality is obviously a huge piece of the book, but it never overshadows all the other things that make him who he is.
On the other hand, I found it strange that he notes some things but then never really goes there again — and it’s all the things like racism (he comments on the essential segregation) and homophobia (he and Bram can’t hold hands in public, because it’s Georgia). He’s a kind of obsessive guy — witness the Elliot Smith tee shirt, the attempts to identify first Cal and then Martin as Blue — so the way he observes but doesn’t think on the unpleasant aspects of his world was either out of character (he’s so navel-gazing for much of the book — for reasonable reasons — that I might have expected Simon to completely miss it, but not to note it and not think about it) else or authorial intrusion. It’s a small flaw but it bothered me on the first read and even more on the second.
Conclusion: This is an excellent debut and a great read. It has four stars and I totally see why, but in the end it struck me as just a little middle of the pack, although when the pack is the top 100 or so books of the year, it’s a hell of a pack to run with.
Boys Don’t Knit:
FUNNY! Which, frankly, is the biggest pro AND the biggest con, because funny never wins. But this is the kind of funny that makes you laugh, and it’s funny twice over — Ben is funny; he says things in witty ways — and also the novel is full of funny moments.
I said smart things about the slightly exaggerated situational comedy of this one. (You’ll have to take my word for it, tho, because this is a recap and recaps tend to lack sufficient textual evidence.) Everything is basically just a little bigger and brighter, like it’s been written with a really great Instagram filter in place. It’s smart and silly and has that Bridget Jones/Georgia Nicholson/Adrian Mole unquestionably English thing, which if you like it — I do — is done just perfectly here.
It also has some nice depth about what it means to not conform to societal standards — in this case, of masculinity. Nothing earth shattering, because it’s handled pretty lightly and resolves pretty easily (it’s a funny book, after all) but all to the good, and it’s nice to have some thematic meat in something that makes a reader laugh out loud.
Flaws? I did think the way Ben’s obsessive worrying was handled more as humor than serious was — well, this is probably just that I am an old woman who spends my days worrying about teens, but that was a little off-putting. (And is it me, or is mental health the YA leitmotif this year? Better than cancer, I guess.) (I should also note that in the original version of that thought I included a pointer to Challenger Deep, where mental health is way more than leitmotif, because it’s an excellent book and no one has commented on that post. The original link was more subtle). Also the final set-piece takes the slightly exaggerated and turns it up to 12, but it was funny and the crescendo works, I think, although I imagine that could be the basis of a fairly heated argument if this actually made it to the table.
Conclusion: while this was a book I personally loved, I think the funny never holds up well against the serious contenders. However, I’m very much hoping the rest of Easton’s work makes its way across the pond.
BUT: these are lauded books with lots of love and some buzz — Simon is on the NBA longlist! So maybe I am totally wrong about them (especially about Simon). Tell me why.
Filed under: Books to look for
About Karyn Silverman
Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.
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