Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Totally Joe (4/5) & Addie on the Inside (3/5) by James Howe

Almost two years ago I read The Misfits by James Howe and instantly fell in love with all the characters. Since then I’ve been meaning to read the two additional books in the series, but kind of forgot until I stumbled upon them in a sale and decided that this was the only way to go.

First published: 2005
Page count: 189
The back says: "Everybody says you and Colin were kissing."
"What? That's ridiculous!"
"For heaven's sake, Joe, if you and Colin want to kiss, you have every right to."
"We did not kiss," I told her.
Addie shrugged. "Whatever."

What was it with my friends?

I say: This novel is presented as a school assignment called an “alphabiography” where Joe is to write about himself from A-Z (which I think is a great idea and wonder why my teachers never gave us assignments like that in school). He starts off by telling the teacher, Mr. Daly, that he hopes he won’t have to disclose whatever is written inside since it could easily be used as ammunition against him.
As if his peers needed any more.

We learn in The Misfits that Joe is gay, but although he has known it himself for a long time (and everyone else has guessed as much from his effeminate and flamboyant manner; which is a stereotype I’ll deal with later), he has never officially come out of the closet. He starts to sort of date Colin, who is a jock and not ready to have anyone know that he’s gay, which causes some friction between the two.
Even though the novel isn’t merely about homosexuality, it does play a huge part since Joe is only 12 and still trying to figure everything out. We learn gradually that Joe has always played with dolls and worn girls’ clothes from an early age; he also loves Cher and talks with his hands. He is the stereotypical gay kid, which is fine because there are people who truly are like that, but what made me like him is that there is more to him than just being squeezed into that stereotype.

There are a lot of identity issues, bullying, tests of friendship in this, but it is told with heaps of humour, which help alleviate the some of the seriousness. I really like Joe (who reminds me of a family member) and I would actually love to read about how he turns out as an adult.

First published: 2011
Page count: 206
The back says: Outspoken thirteen-year-old Addie Carle learns about love, loss, and staying true to herself as she navigates seventh grade, enjoys a visit from her grandmother, fights with her boyfriend, and endures gossip and meanness from her former best friend.
I say: Addie’s part of the story is a series of poems that she writes about what’s going on in her life; as the aptly named title reveals. It was a quick read that found me really amazed at how many of the feelings and issues Addie had were the same as my own when I was 12 and 13. Although I was never as politically involved as Addie (apart from when it was something that I felt strongly about), I was known as a knot-it-all and was constantly being told to shut up.

Which I never did.
And still don’t.

The poems range from childish rhymes about life in school to rather deep and poignant fragments about identity, loss, friendship and not fitting in. Having read The Misfits and Totally Joe prior to this it was interesting to see how different Addie truly was from the way her friends perceived her. It was also refreshing to read about how frustrating it is to try to make your voice heard to people who don’t care about anything other than their immediate social circle, and conversely to see how Addie realises that sometimes silence can be louder than any speech.
How cliché, I know, but Howes makes it work.

All in all, it was a good book that I will give to my niece to read since the issues it deals with aren’t exclusive to early teens.

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