Brent Hartinger may be known to
readers for his previous novel Geography Club, which told of the coming
out of sixteen-year-old Russell, who formed the first Gay-Straight-Bisexual
Alliance at his high school. Now it is
the end of the junior year and Russell and his friends decide to work as
counselors at a summer camp. He is
looking forward to the change of scene since he has had homophobes at school
yell "faggot" at him for the last weeks of the semester, and he has
been feeling a bit sorry for himself.
Russell becomes less self-obsessed
when the summer camp starts and he is in change of a group of eleven-year-old
boys who are burn survivors. At first
he has difficulty keeping the group from running riot and ignoring everything
he says, because he finds it hard to use discipline. He does not want to hurt the feelings of children who have
already suffered so much. But he comes
to realize that they want to be treated normally, and he can't use kid gloves
on them if he wants to get their respect.
Eventually he learns to be an excellent counselor, and learns a great
deal from the boys. He is able too
identify with their isolation through his experience as a young gay man, and so
they form the "Order of the Poison Oak" as a secret club to give them
The other main feature of Russell's
summer is romance. As soon as he gets
to the camp, he notices one of the other counselors, Web, who is very attractive
to Russell. Russell, is not sure
whether Web is open to his advances, however, and his best friend Min, who is
bisexual, also likes Web. So when Web
hits on him, Russell feels guilty. The
romance part of the novel is never explicitly sexual, but it is erotic and it
is clear that Russell is interested in sex and is excited to be able to find
someone he likes.
The Order of the Poison Oak
is a well-written novel for young adults.
It teaches a powerful lesson of understanding difference and feeling
empathy for others. The basic plot is
pretty simple and the pace is swift, so it is a very easy read. It is both entertaining and edifying, and so
should appeal not only to young gay readers, but to any teens who have felt
isolated from their peers.
© 2005 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long
Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His
main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and