Kamikaze Boys, by Jay Bell [BOOK REVIEW]
I'm not a fan of young adult fiction (or YA) because I'm well past the YA demographic, and reading about the slings and arrows of the outrageous lives of high school kids is about as interesting to me as watching paint dry. Sure, I’m as sentimental as the next guy, but…come on! Even when I was a teenager, teen angst was boring. And, until recently, the Gay fiction market was equally as benign: genre variations on the singular theme of erotica. Again, I’m as horny as the next guy, but…come on! Unless you have some sort of sexual weirdness going on, reading gay fiction was, for me, like masturbating ten times a day: the first few are great; the rest, no so much.
But things have changed. With authors like Jay Bell, I've found a whole new world of gay fiction. The plot of Bell’s Kamikaze Boys is a tight evolution of the campfire cum wildfire of first love that’s juxtaposed with competing familial responsibilities and high school angst while, at the same time, it is the characters’ tenacity and resolutions which drive the story; everyone moves around freely, completely unrestricted by the confines of the craft. Like any character-driven work, there’s always the looming possibility of what begins as either a universal norm or a unique quirk of the human condition becomes idiosyncratic instead of poignant, self-conscious instead of demonstrative, and/or extreme instead of inspired. In fact, this is why it is the character-driven novels that win the literary prizes, big and small.
Bell aptly filters out sensationalism and the prosaic and we're left with authentic, unique interpretations of the popular middle-American culture. Now, I’m swept up in the lives of these kids, recalling the days of my own youth and how difficult it was for me growing up gay. I find myself fantasizing about how wonderful it would have been for me to have had a David Henry or a Connor Williams in my life, to experience that feverish, all-consuming brand of first, young love. My God, what a difference that would have made.