by Brent Hartinger
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
This title slid across my desk at the public library to be checked in. There was something about the title (“did someone seriously write a book about a geography club?”) and the cover photo (“it looks like this boy has something to hide”) that made me pick it up and read the inside flap. Turns out, no, Hartinger did not write a book about a geography club. He wrote a book about a bunch of small-town high schoolers who manage to find each other because they’re all gay and, in their desire to have a safe space in which to talk, create a new school club. “We just choose a club that’s so boring, nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!”
Throwing a wrench into that plan is a straight girl who DOES want to join; by the end of the book, she is one of their straight allies. There was so much about this book that was right on, but a few aspects of the dialogue that were stilted or otherwise unbelievable. However, the general tenor of the book was great. Normally I have trouble with books that hit you over the head with how autobiographical they must be. However, according to the author, “Not all of my books are autobiographical, but much of Geography Club sure is. Russel, my main character, is pretty much me, updated for the 2000s. Except I was a lot more neurotic.” But Russel is believable and likeable and so are the rest of the characters – mostly three-dimensional, dealing with issues other than being gay.
I was discussing this book with the librarian at my school, who said she couldn’t imagine a single kid at that school who would read it. I may not know the middle schoolers that well (we mostly deal with the K-5 half of the school), but chances are, that kid is out there, possibly more than one, and this book would be especially important in an environment where you can’t imagine anyone reading it. I think that’s the whole point. In the meantime, I am enjoying a little fantasy about slipping this book to a kid and then having a coded exchange about geography. Love it.