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Geography Club by Brent Hartinger is
a ground breaking coming-of-age novel. It frankly details the struggles of
coming to terms (and not coming to terms) with growing up gay, lesbian, or
bi-sexual in world filled with homophobia and peer pressure.
is set in Goodkind High School. Russel Middlebrook is a sophomore and he is
"deep behind enemy lines." Russel is a brainy egghead, a social
status he shares with his childhood friends, Gunnar and Min. Russel, however,
is also gay, deeply hidden in the closet, and terrified of being
"outted". He has good reasons, Rev. Bowd holds a tight rein on the
school's conservative sexual policies and daily he observes the cruel pranks
and ridicule inflicted by his fellow students on Brian Bund, the school social
outcast. One night, Russel stumbles into a local gay chatroom and encounters
"GayTeen". He is surprised that there is another gay student in his
small town. He is even more surprised when he discovers that GayTeen is another
sophomore at Goodkind. The two agree to meet and Russel discovers that GayTeen
is none other than Kevin Land, the good-looking star of the baseball team.
Kevin is more sexual experienced in the gay lifestyle than Russel but is hiding
even deeper in the closet due to his "jock" friends and social status
as a star athlete. Still it is not long before Russel and Kevin begin a secret
relationship. Bursting with the news of his relationship with Kevin, Russel
reveals his sexual orientation to Min only to discover that she is bisexual and
has been involved in a long time lesbian relationship with Terese, a star on
the girl's soccer team. Min and Terese are also very much "in the
closet" about their relationship. The four -- Russel, Kevin, Min, and
Terese -- decide to meet for mutual support and are soon joined by Terese's
friend Ike, a member of the leftist activist crowd. As a social group they have
little in common except the loneliness of their closeted sexuality, but this is
more than enough to garner friendship. In order to meet together without undue
suspicion, they form the "Geography Club" because "no high
school student in their right minds would ever join that."(p.63)† They did not count on bubbly Belinda Sherman
who decides to join the club because it would look good on her college
applications. Belinda is talkative and definitely not gay, but none the less is
hiding in her own secret closet. Everything should have proceeded nicely, even
with Belinda, if plot complications did not intervene. Gunnar, Russel's other
childhood friend is hot for Kimberly Peterson, but Kim will only date Gunnar if
Russel double dates with her friend, Trish. Kim may be popular and beautiful,
but she is also nasty, loud, and vindictive. Trish, for her part, is hot for
Russel in a most physical way. When a rumor is circulated about a Gay Alliance
Club at the school, the members of the Geography Club fear discovery and become
suspicious toward each other wondering who in the Club is the snitch.
Geography Club is
very well written. It explores the awkwardness, fear, and loneliness of being
gay/lesbian/bisexual. It also "outs" the idea that many teens hide in
closets, not necessarily due to sexual orientation, in order to try to fit in
and avoid the horrendous jokes and pranks by their peers. The story of Brian
Bund epitomizes what happens to teenage social outcasts. Brian, however, also
epitomizes the inner strengths of character it takes to refuse to sell out and
move into a closet. At one point in the novel he is portrayed as a
self-sacrificing Christ figure.
Brent Hartinger is an author and
playwright. He is the founder of "Oasis" a support group for gay and lesbian
young people. Hartinger lives in Washington (state) with his partner. Geography Club is his first novel. His
website is http://www.brenthartinger.com
Geography Club is
a powerful read. It not only has the unique niche of being a
gay/lesbian/bisexual coming of age novel, but it explores the commoner
experience of deciding between conformity and hiding in a closet for social
acceptance versus individuality and facing social ostracism. This novel should
be required reading for high school students. I highly recommend this book.
Grade 10 and up
© 2003 Su Terry
Su Terry: Education:
B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from
Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral
Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from
New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual
Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the
United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at
Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested
in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area
of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian
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