Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Guy Friday- The Language of Seabirds

Taylor, Will. The Language of Seabirds
July 19th 2022 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Twelve-year-old Jeremy lives in Oregon but doesn't remember ever having visited the coast. Sadly, he is able to go when his parents finally get divorced after years of bickering. He and his father spend two weeks in an uncle's rental house while his mother cleans out and moves to another town for a better job. At some point, Jeremy will have to decide which parent he will live with, but for now he is stuck with his busy, college professor father who keeps springing new, unusual rules on Jeremy, and his bro-tastic uncle. Jeremy is uncomfortable with the way the two men treat him, especially when they talk about how he must be interested in girls; Jeremy is pretty sure his romantic interest are with guys, but he doesn't want to tell his parents. His father wouldn't understand, and his overportective mother would make his sexual identity into a project. When Jeremy sees an attractive boy running on the beach and later meets him in town at his grandmother's tourist shop, he doesn't know wuite what to make of Evan. The two arrange to go on a run, even though Jeremy has never run a mile in his life. He does, however, take money his mother gave him, get on a bus to go to Target, and buy running gear, and makes a good effort to keep up with cross country athlete Evan, even though his lack of experience is revealed when he throws up! The two boys become friends, and share an interest in the local seabirds. They have copies of the same bird identification book, and are soon connecting different birds to different experiences or emotions. Jeremy has to struggle with his father's spiraling despair and drinking, and when Jeremy and Evan go on a run before a big Fourth of July party but get caught by the tide on a ledge, they finally discuss their feelings for each other. They are also both grounded. Evan has told his grandmother that he is gay, but Jeremy continues to hide this from his father, since so much else is going on. When his father's erratic behavior culminates in an embarassing display while he is taking the boys out to a local restaurant, Will has to decide how he will go forward in his relationship with both
 his father and with Evan. 
Strengths: This is getting a lot of love as a tender, lyrical LGBTQIA romance, but what really sold this book to me was the interactions Jeremy had with his parents! Mother goes off to live her own life but texts Jeremy and tries to micromanage his sunscreen useage. Father is blindsided by the divorce and takes it out on Jeremy in weird ways while spending a brief amount of time pickling himself. Families being generally supportive of news that the boys are gay. The father's melt down in the diner, and the fact that he was able to apologize and to turn himself around seemed especially important. Parents play a far larger role in tweens lives than middle grade literature tends to acknowledge. It's easier to kill them off and send tweens on adventures, but in reality, parents are a huge influence in middle grade readers' lives. Sometimes they are embarassing. Sometimes they are unreasonable. I also loved Jeremy's reactions. He was mature enough to sort of understand that his father was going through a hard time, and didn't talk back when asked to do sometimes unreasonable chores, and even took it upon himself to do chores that he thought would make his dad easier to live with. I've had conversations with students about similar issues; this happens more than we might acknowledge. Of course, the romance was sweet and stumbling, like most middle school romances are, and Jeremy's struggle with coming out seemed more... nuanaced and current than many other depictions I've seen. Society evolves, and its' great to see literature evolving with it. 
Weaknesses: The inclusion of the seabirds and the coded language the boys create with the bird names seemed a bit forced and younger than the characters. I could see the purpose of it, but it didn't quite work for me. Lends itself to an interesting title and cover, though!
What I really think: This is definitely a book that centers romance, and meets all the criteria for a good middle school romance-- no drinking (by the tweens; the father drinks a lot), not too much YA drama, and sweet romantic gestures like holding hands and standing on the beach at sunset rather than the more YA play-by-play of physical activity. Readers of Barakiva's One Man Guy will enjoy this, and it definitely has more romance and less activism than the new Small Town Pride or The Civil War of Amos Abernathy. I still think this is a great book to recommend based on the drama of the parents' divorce more than anything else. Also, this is exactly the right kind of illustrated cover for middle grade readers. It looks slightly older; less cartoonish.

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