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TalkReview - Talk
by Kathe Koja
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
Review by Elizabeth O'Connor, Ph.D.
Mar 28th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 13)

In February of this year in Fulton, Missouri, the local high school put on a production of the play "Grease."† After the production, some complaints about the appropriateness of the play were lodged with school authorities, including some complaints from people who had not seen any of the performances.† Specifically, reports of on-stage kissing and drinking offended some members of the community.† The principal of the school, who had previously approved the play, retracted his approval, and announced that the planned production of "The Crucible" would not take place.† He cited concerns about the appropriateness of material in that play as well.

This real-life incident echoes the events of Kath Koja's latest book Talk.† In Talk, a controversial high school play also creates a stir in a small community.† The school board caves into the concerns, and the school's production is cancelled.† Unlike the response in Fulton, the students do not take no for an answer. †They work to be able to perform the play elsewhere.

Talk is told by two narrators in alternating chapters.† Kit is the male lead in the play, his first acting experience.† He nurses a crush on Pablo, an older student who literally does not know Kit exists.† Lindsay, the female lead, is a self-involved queen bee who gradually comes to be aware of Kit's charms.† Their chapters are interspersed with dialogue from the play, Talk, which is about resistance to a dictatorial government.† The constant shifting of focus, from one character to another to the fictional script, is never jarring.† Kit and Lindsay have distinctly different voices and perspectives, and Koja never falters in her portrayal of either one.†

Talk may be one of those "post-gay" books, a nebulous term but one we cannot escape.† It is not a traditional story of a tortured young man who wrestles with his sexuality.† When Kit comes out to his parents it is not a major big deal, to him or them.† His torture comes more from his infatuation with Pablo.

The book is saved from coming across as self-righteous or preachy by the voices of its protagonists.† Free speech is certainly at stake for the students, but also in evidence are the desire to be in the spotlight ("Six News will be there… Keep an eye out for [the local reporter!] counsels Lindsay's mother just before the rally to support the play), behind the scenes politics (one of the most vocal critics of the play is the mother of a boy who didn't get a part), and the ever-shifting hierarchies of high school society.† It sounds real.

Of course, what is real and what merely sounds real may be two different things.† "It's over.† We can't do anything about it.† We just have to obey," a 15-year old Fulton student is quoted in the New York Times (February 11, 2006) about the cancellation of the production of The Crucible.† Another noted that in The Crucible "People get hung; there's death in it. It's not appropriate."† Is it only in fiction today where we find kids willing to take on authority, or at least go down swinging?† Maybe we should send some copies of Talk out to Fulton.

 

© 2006 Elizabeth O'Connor

 

 

Elizabeth O'Connor, Ph.D. is co-author with Suzanne Johnson of For Lesbian Parents (Guilford, 2001) and The Gay Baby Boom: The Psychology of Gay Parenthood (NYU Press, 2002).


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