Title: Geography Club
Author: Brent Hartinger
Publication Info: New York, HarperTempest, 2003
Age Groups/Grades: Reviews rate this as 12+ (Grades 7-12); however, in more conservative communities, it would probably be best placed for 15+/Grades 10+
Topics: sexual identity, high school social group interaction, intolerance
Summary: “A group of gay and lesbian teenagers finds mutual support when the form the ‘Geography Club’ at their high school.” (Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data)
Russel Middlebrook is an average high school sophomore. He doesn’t stand out in sports or in specific social groups. He’s not unpopular—he has friends, but he feels alone. Yes, he’s an average high school student, but he has a secret--he is gay, and he’s pretty sure he’s the only gay student at his high school.
That night in my bedroom, I logged on to the Net. I said I’d never actually been naked with a guy, but it’s possible that once or twice I might’ve gone to a gay chat room and maybe even gone off for a private chat with a guy or two. I refuse to say any more about this on the grounds that it may incriminate me, but I will say that mostly we really did just chat about innocent things, like how long had we known we were gay and which actor did we think was cute.
The fact is, there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely; I may not have been completely alone in life, but I was definitely lonely. My secret mission—four years in an American high school—had been an involuntary one, and now I desperately wanted to be somewhere where I could be honest about who I was and what I wanted. I had plenty to say on the topic, but no one to say it to—not my friends, definitely not my parents (don’t get me started). The Internet gave me people to say it to. Problem is, they weren’t real. (Pages 11-12)
After this discussion, Russel goes into an online chatroom for gay teens and notices that his city’s name has been added. Could there be another gay teen in his town? His school? If Russel identifies himself to this other person, all his careful work at “playing it straight” could just blow up in his face. What would you do? Would you go meet this person? Whether you’re gay, straight, or not really sure, you won’t want to miss what happens next.
This book has won several awards and honors, is thoughtfully written, witty and definitely thought provoking. I suspect that most readers will recognize some of their own high school cliques, the cafeteria(!), and maybe even some of their own peers. Russel’s voice rings true in the sense of every high school student’s search for their own identity, their own place. It was no surprise to find out that it was semi-autobiographical. It might suffer somewhat from the notion that it’s just “a gay book,” which would be a real shame because there really is something there for anyone who is in or who has ever been in high school.