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Kitchen Table Reviews: Absolutely, Positively Not

The family tackles a tale about identity that may not be suitable for little ones.

By Mir Kamin | June 5 , 2009
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<i>Absolutely, Positively Not</i> by David LaRochelle<br />
Absolutely, Positively Not by David LaRochelle

Let’s be perfectly clear about this one right up front: It’s not for little kids, and it’s about a teenager struggling with his sexuality. I’m one of those moms who prefers to foster open dialog even before questions come up, and the reviews suggested the book would be worth the read (it’s both a Sid Fleischman Humor Award winner and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults), so I decided to try it, even though I knew my youngest might be a little bit on the young side. (If this is the sort of thing that makes you want to send me hate mail, feel free to skip this week’s review.)

I have to say, I was impressed with my kids’ responses… for the most part. Well, you’ll see.

Me: I want you two to talk first, this week. Tell me what you liked.
Son: Steven is hilarious! I mean, I guess it’s too bad that he’s having trouble with being gay or whatever, but he’s really funny. I laughed a lot.
Daughter: It is a really funny story, even though it’s a hard topic. Like, sometimes I cringed for Steven, when he was embarrassed, but then a page later I’d be laughing, because even though it was hard it was just so absurd, some of it.
Me: I agree. I thought the author did a great job of balancing a heavy topic with an entertaining story.
Son: And I liked the thing about the dance best. He took a dog! Because he didn’t want to take a girl!
Girl: I liked how his best friend knew all along. That scene was great, when he thinks he’s telling her and it’s gonna be a big shock, but everyone in her family is all, “Oh, Steven’s finally admitting he’s gay? That’s great!”
Me: How did you feel about what happened when he talked to his parents?
Daughter: His mom didn’t listen very well, at first. I felt kind of bad for him.

[Here my son lost any pretense of engaging in our review discussion, and instead reminded me that he is just 9—he began interjecting, “I’m gay!” into the conversation periodically and giggling. He was removed from the table.]

Me: I felt sad, reading that scene with him and his mom. But I guess she came around, later.
Daughter: It seems like it kind of worked out. He felt better. And he realized he wasn’t alone.
Me: Do you think this is just a book about being gay? Is it only good for kids who are realizing they’re gay?
Daughter: No, it’s a great book for anyone because it’s funny. But it’s also good for anyone who’s ever felt different in some way, I bet. It’s about fitting in and finding yourself. Doesn’t that sort of stuff happen to everyone?

Out of the mouths of babes. I’d say this one is great for just about anyone in middle school and up.

Pros: A truly funny tale, with a likeable protagonist. Gives a compassionate glimpse into the life of a teen who feels different. Story is realistic, yet with enough plot twists to keep things interesting.

Cons: The topic may be unsuitable for younger readers. Teenage angst (gay or straight). Many will skip this title due to the subject matter, and miss a really great story.

Absolutely, Positively Not… Gay gets three thumbs up from our kitchen table, even though in the last few days I’ve been asked “What’s a lesbian?” and “So which of my friends do you think are gay?” Hooboy. Parenting (and book reviewing!)—not for wimps.

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