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Draw the Line
Some books remind me that there is much I don’t know about the world. I’ve been very lucky that my personal life has never been touched by a violent hate crime. In Laurent Linn’s Draw the Line, Adrian Piper is a gay teen who regularly hears homophobic slurs in the hallways of his school. He chooses to keep his sexual orientation hidden from everyone but his closest friends, in the hope that he’ll be invisible to the bullies who routinely harass an openly gay classmate. Accuracy is an important Printz criteria, so early on in my reading of this novel, I spent a lot of time thinking about if and how the plot works as a reflection of real life.
Draw the Line put me in a world I’ve never seen firsthand and it was jarring. Initially, I questioned the novel’s accuracy. I thought, surely this is an exaggeration of what it’s really like for today’s LGBT teens; after all, shouldn’t it be better now?
Maybe, but it’s not.
In August The New York Times reported the results of an important new CDC study, “Health Risks Among Sexual Minority Youth.” The researchers found that “[LGBT teens] were three times more likely than straight students to have been raped. They skipped school far more often because they did not feel safe; at least a third had been bullied on school property. And they were twice as likely as heterosexual students to have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.”
These numbers are deeply troubling and tell me two things: that we still have so much more to do to provide safety and support for LGBT youth and that Laurent Linn’s debut novel depicts a very real lived experience. He shows us the harassment and intimidation that happens in the school hallways and a horrific assault in a strip mall parking lot. He also shows us the aftermath; Kobe, the boy who was attacked, doesn’t return to school even after he recovers from his physical wounds, and Adrian, who witnesses and tries to stop the attack, also misses school, traumatized by the experience and feeling like he will not be safe at school. These plot beats form a believable foundation for the novel, which aids the validity of everything else that follows.
In addition to situational accuracy, Linn’s characters stand out as realistic individuals, although a few are written without the depth that’s apparent in others. Audrey, one of Adrian’s best friends, teeters on the edge of stock character with her overbearing concern, focus on her appearance, and belief that no boys are interested in her. The object of Adrian’s affection, Lev, is occasionally too perfect and understanding while the novel’s secondary antagonist is nothing more than an overzealous henchman. Doug, the perpetrator of the hate crime, has a complex inner-life which is reflected through his dialogue with Adrian and certain characteristics (like his obsession with making the perfect hot sauce.)
This detail about Doug is one of a few things that make him different from his football teammates. Any outsider would peg Doug as the über jock, but internally he feels like an outsider in his group of friends. He can’t share with them his love for comics and cooking. It’s a funhouse mirror image of Adrian, who is literally outside of the gay community, which of course is the exact group of people he should reach out to. Linn plays with the ideas of loneliness and isolation within small social groups. Through Adrian, Linn shows that there is power in finding and making connections to other people, that you shouldn’t close yourself off to the world because you assume that the world won’t accept you. In a way, this wasn’t just Adrian’s journey, it was about a group of friends who find each other through challenging circumstances.
Ultimately, this is a very sweet, idealistic, and aspirational text. The inclusion of Adrian’s art is crucial to the development of his narrative voice. It’s consistently written but being able to see him express his emotions through art makes those emotions explicit and literal without having to spell them out with words. Adrian’s transformation from a passive bystander to an active participant will move many readers.
As Karyn has asked herself this season, would I nominate it?
There’s simply not enough here for me to build an argument for serious literary merit. All the elements are executed well but the book lacks the sophistication that you would expect in a Printz-worthy novel. Now, if we were Someday My Morris Will Come (I guess that doesn’t really work, does it?) I wouldn’t hesitate to nominate and I can’t wait to see what Linn does next.
How about you, dear reader? I feel like this might be a heart book for some of you, so speak up and tell me why this one might be a head book too.
About Joy Piedmont
Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.
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