Friday, June 03, 2022

Green Eyes and Ham

Penny, Mary. Green Eyes and Ham
May 31st 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abraham, "Ham", has been raised by his mother, a single minister, in a small town. After a disastrous elementary school experience, he's been homeschooled and has spent more time with the elderly church ladies than children his own age. After his mother's stress level creates health problems, close family friend Deuce encourages her to let Ham attend public school for 8th grade. This is a tough change, but new neighbor and friend Fey helps. She helps him navigate the sometimes tough kids, like Royce, who makes fun of him because his cat Buster follows him to school, or Bijou, who isn't pleased when Ham is a better runner than she is and threatens to usurp her position on the cross country team. Ham also meets Micah, who has a rough family life but is very cute, and seems to want to be Ham's friend... and perhaps more than a friend. After an incident where Ham falls in the creek and Bijou steals his bike, Ham is increasingly confused by Micah's friendship with the troubled girl, but is also confused by his growing feelings. Ham's mother can sense that Ham is struggling, and is very supportive, but also can't answer all of his questions about his emerging identity. Deuce, who has recently lost longtime friend Mr. Flynn to cancer, is also supportive, and helps Ham with his running. Ham is made team captain, which angers Bijou, and when Buster goes missing, Ham suspects she had something to do with it. Unfortunately, this leads to a unfortunate incident with Micah that ends with Ham being interviewed by the police. How will Ham navigate school and friendships after this trauma?
Strengths: This was very well written, and I was easily able to remember all of the characters and the plot without consulting notes. This is rarely the case, and speaks strongly for the writing. I enjoyed the setting, and Ham's interactions with the church ladies was very fun. Deuce was also a great character, with his classic car and resilient personality; he had spent time in the prison near the town, and still does not like the police, but is always in Ham's corner. Fey is a good friend, Bijou is somewhat understandable, and Micah fits the mold of an unreliable character. We just don't know what he is doing, and if he is telling the truth. Ham's background of being abandoned as an infant and adopted adds another layer of interest. I'm always for books involving cross country, although the season in California must be very different than Ohio's if their first meet is in November! Our season is well over by then!
Weaknesses:While Ham and Micah's budding romance is well developed, the problems with it seem like something written in the 1990s, when horrible things seemed to always happen to gay characters. Modern stories about tweens and teens that are gay have changed a lot since then.
What I really think: There aren't a lot of middle grade books with boy characters who are gay, but there are a growing number. Howe's Totally Joe (2005), Barakiva's One Man Guy (2014), Federle's Better Nate Than Never (2013), Wind's Queer as a Five Dollar Bill (2018) Pancholy's The Best At It (2019), Bildner's High Five For Glen Burke (2020) and the upcoming The Civil War of Amos Abernathy and Stamper's Small Town Pride are all written by self identified gay men, so I would definitely have those books in my library before purchasing this one, in the interest of supporting marginalized authors. 

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