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by Brent Hartinger
HarperTempest, 2003
Review by Su Terry on May 14th 2003

Geography Club

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger is a ground breaking coming-of-age novel. It frankly details the struggles of coming to terms (and not coming to terms) with growing up gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual in world filled with homophobia and peer pressure.

Geography Club is set in Goodkind High School. Russel Middlebrook is a sophomore and he is "deep behind enemy lines." Russel is a brainy egghead, a social status he shares with his childhood friends, Gunnar and Min. Russel, however, is also gay, deeply hidden in the closet, and terrified of being "outted". He has good reasons, Rev. Bowd holds a tight rein on the school's conservative sexual policies and daily he observes the cruel pranks and ridicule inflicted by his fellow students on Brian Bund, the school social outcast. One night, Russel stumbles into a local gay chatroom and encounters "GayTeen". He is surprised that there is another gay student in his small town. He is even more surprised when he discovers that GayTeen is another sophomore at Goodkind. The two agree to meet and Russel discovers that GayTeen is none other than Kevin Land, the good-looking star of the baseball team. Kevin is more sexual experienced in the gay lifestyle than Russel but is hiding even deeper in the closet due to his "jock" friends and social status as a star athlete. Still it is not long before Russel and Kevin begin a secret relationship. Bursting with the news of his relationship with Kevin, Russel reveals his sexual orientation to Min only to discover that she is bisexual and has been involved in a long time lesbian relationship with Terese, a star on the girl's soccer team. Min and Terese are also very much "in the closet" about their relationship. The four -- Russel, Kevin, Min, and Terese -- decide to meet for mutual support and are soon joined by Terese's friend Ike, a member of the leftist activist crowd. As a social group they have little in common except the loneliness of their closeted sexuality, but this is more than enough to garner friendship. In order to meet together without undue suspicion, they form the "Geography Club" because "no high school student in their right minds would ever join that."(p.63)† They did not count on bubbly Belinda Sherman who decides to join the club because it would look good on her college applications. Belinda is talkative and definitely not gay, but none the less is hiding in her own secret closet. Everything should have proceeded nicely, even with Belinda, if plot complications did not intervene. Gunnar, Russel's other childhood friend is hot for Kimberly Peterson, but Kim will only date Gunnar if Russel double dates with her friend, Trish. Kim may be popular and beautiful, but she is also nasty, loud, and vindictive. Trish, for her part, is hot for Russel in a most physical way. When a rumor is circulated about a Gay Alliance Club at the school, the members of the Geography Club fear discovery and become suspicious toward each other wondering who in the Club is the snitch.

Geography Club is very well written. It explores the awkwardness, fear, and loneliness of being gay/lesbian/bisexual. It also "outs" the idea that many teens hide in closets, not necessarily due to sexual orientation, in order to try to fit in and avoid the horrendous jokes and pranks by their peers. The story of Brian Bund epitomizes what happens to teenage social outcasts. Brian, however, also epitomizes the inner strengths of character it takes to refuse to sell out and move into a closet. At one point in the novel he is portrayed as a self-sacrificing Christ figure.

Brent Hartinger is an author and playwright. He is the founder of "Oasis" a support group for gay and lesbian young people. Hartinger lives in Washington (state) with his partner. Geography Club is his first novel. His website is http://www.brenthartinger.com

Geography Club is a powerful read. It not only has the unique niche of being a gay/lesbian/bisexual coming of age novel, but it explores the commoner experience of deciding between conformity and hiding in a closet for social acceptance versus individuality and facing social ostracism. This novel should be required reading for high school students. I highly recommend this book. Grade 10 and up

 

© 2003 Su Terry

 

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.