Title: Totally Joe
Author: James Howe
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Coming Out, Coming of Age, First Love
Age Level: 6th through 10th Grade
Joe Bunch is your average middle schooler. What he really wants is to be popular, but he'll settle for being left alone. Unfortunately for him, his rather flamboyant nature makes him the target of the school bully, Kevin. Told as journal entries for the "alphabiography" his teacher assigned, we learn about all of Joe's ups and downs, from his first boyfriend to his distant relationship with his brother and his beloved Aunt Pam moving away.
I don't usually read other people's reviews of a book before writing my own, but in looking for a summary of the ply of Totally Joe I came across two that made me shake my head. Both mentioned how well-written the book was, and how engaging the story was, and then went on to mention how unrealistic it is that a gay middle-schooler could be so comfortable with themselves, and that their family and friends could be so accepting. It is such a sad testament to the fact that most people still see being gay and coming out as traumatic experiences filled with self-hatred, family denial, and rejection. Believe it or not, there are families out there that are completely and unreservedly accepting of their gay children. I know at least three such young people myself, who came out in middle school to their families and close friends and had nothing but positive, supporting experiences. I love the fact that Howe does not make Joe's journey and coming out full of drama and conflict. Why is it unrealistic to describe what a loving, accepting family structure looks like? This book, a companion to The Misfits, does not have its power. But Joe is an engaging, likeable character, and his story of self-acceptance and first love is sweet.