True Letters from a Fictional Life - Kenneth Logan
If you asked anyone in his small Vermont town, they’d tell you the facts: James Liddell, star athlete, decent student and sort-of boyfriend to cute, peppy Theresa, is a happy, funny, carefree guy.
But whenever James sits down at his desk to write, he tells a different story. As he fills his drawers with letters to the people in his world--letters he never intends to send--he spills the truth: he’s trying hard, but he just isn’t into Theresa. It’s a boy who lingers in his thoughts.
He feels trapped by his parents, his teammates, and the lies they’ve helped him tell, and he has no idea how to escape. Is he destined to live a life of fiction?
Kenneth Logan's True Letters from a Fictional Life is both fulfilling, frustrating, and heartbreaking. James and Theresa's fragile relationship isn't really fooling anyone, except maybe Theresa... and James. James, however, has a crush on one of his friends, and as he realizes what this might mean, he starts to worry about how each of his friends will react. When Derek gets an invitation to a dance at another school, he brings along James and Theresa. When James meets Topher at an after party, everything starts to unravel. When the letters that James writes and never sends out get stolen, he doesn't know which of his friends might have done it.
James's sometimes self-hating, and certainly judgmental attitude is frustrating, but also realistic. He is obviously conflicted, trying to stand up for the bullied and effeminate Aaron Foster, but also trying to remove himself from possibly "gay" situations, and worrying about the reactions of everyone around him. I did find myself getting annoyed with the amount of complete ignorance displayed by adults/parents throughout this book, Jame's dad, for instance:
I mean, it's clear that [Aaron] goes out of his way to be different, and if kids are bullying him, it might be because they feel threatened somehow by Aaron's decision to flout social norms. But if Aaron blended in a bit more, the other boys might not feel so aggressive toward him, right?
I mean, yes, his father does come around to a degree, but this particular sentiment isn't actually dealt with in a meaningful way. A culture of victim-blaming is being perpetuated by so many adults in fiction. Again, I don't blame authors for reflecting society, but I think there is a necessity to more thoroughly engage with and hopefully find ways to counter that culture of shame and violence. [/end rand]
Secrecy and lies catch up to everyone over the course of the novel, and surprises about. Hawken is surprised by how one of his friends reacts to James, and James is surprised by how badly he misread his friends and family. There are some very sweet moments, including James talking to his brothers about his feelings. And there are some utterly frustrating moments, like when James realizes the violence he will be subjected to if he comes out to the whole world.
The phrase thudded in my gut. I'm gay. Gay kids get killed.All of this being said, I think this is a solid book and would recommend it for library collections and for use in secondary and post-secondary classrooms to talk about cultures of homophobia, violence, shame, and victim-blaming.
(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out June 7, 2016)