Sunday, July 4, 2010

97. Band Fags! by Frank Anthony Polito

Both my friend Jeff and his roommate Ryan recommended Band Fags! (and its sequel Drama Queers!), they know the author Frank Anthony Polito (FAP, as I came to think of him). Jeff loaned me his copy, along with Vanna Speaks and a few other books. I have to tell a Jeff story here. We saw American Pie 2 together, and when the Jason Biggs character realizes that he loves the Alyson Hannigan character and declares that he is a band dork (nerd?), he just never joined the band, Jeff (master floutist) turned to me and said that I was a band dork (nerd?), I just never joined the band. Agree? Disagree? Discuss amongst yourselves.

September, 1982. John Cougar's "Jack and Diane" is on endless radio rotation, and Dallas and Dynasty rule the ratings. Jack Paterno is a straight-A student living in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park, with his own Atari 5200, a Beta VCR, and everything a seventh-grader could ask for. The only thing he has is common with foul-mouthed Brad Dayton, who lives on the gritty south side near 8 Mile, is that both are in Varsity Band. Or maybe that's not the only thing. Because Jack is discovering that while hanging around with girls in elementary school was perfectly acceptable, having lots of girl friends (as opposed to girlfriends) now is getting him and Brad labeled as Band Fags. And Jack is no fag. Is he?

As Jack and Brad make their way through junior high and then through Hazel Park High School, their friendship grows deeper and more complicated. From stealing furtive glances at Playgirl to discussing which celebrities might be like that, from navigating school cliques to dealing with crushes on girls and guys alike, Jack is trying to figure out who and what he is. He wants to find real, endless love, but he also wants to be popular and "normal." But, as Brad points out, this is real life -- not a John Hughes movie. And sooner or later, Jack will have to choose.

Plot summary taken from the paperback back cover. 

Ah, coming of age tales. I don't think I could ever write so much in the voice of a young adult, but I immediately recognized the writing of Jack as authentic. It rang true. I thought to myself while reading that FAP must have kept diaries from the time to reference because he wrote so convincingly. And 
of the gay coming of age fiction that I've read for the project (Sugarless, The Density of Souls, The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second), FAP's was most relatable -- even though band (and drama) was not my world at all, but being in my own group of friends aside from "popular" kids was my experience. Also the pop culture stuff was totes up my alley; it's nice to know there are other geeks out there who know actors in TV movies from the other TV movies they've done. And best of all, no boys are gross stuff! :)

While reading, I identified with Jack and empathized with him, found him likeable. But when I was done with Band Fags!, I started to feel a little differently -- especially because I started Drama Queers! almost immediately after finishing it, which is from Brad's point of view for his and Jack's senior year in high school. Jack is insecure and unsure of himself just about to the point of making him someone uncomfortable to be around; popularity and "normalcy" are so important to him that it's almost off-putting. I didn't feel that way while reading which is to Polito's credit -- it's when I stepped out of Jack's shoes and saw him from the outside that I started to feel that way. When you're on the journey with Jack, you're with him.

I highly recommend this one! Stay tuned for my Drama Queers! post, coming soon to a blog near you.

No comments: