And guys like Max – well, it seemed like proof positive that the age of the family had peaked and was currently on the downhill trail. I’m not trying to say that families are for shit or anything, but stuff was changing and I knew it, and I felt good about knowing because it seemed like maybe by knowing I’d be able to do something different and not have the same damned thing happen to me.
What I’m really trying to say is that while I was out there walking, I got a grip. I knew there was a chance.
Jack was A.M. Homes’ first novel. It’s about a teenage boy who finds out the reason his parents divorced is because his dad is a homosexual. Obviously, this has been done to death at this point, but maybe at the time there was something different there. Regardless, the response was overwhelming and the book was challenged, banned and castigated by the religious right. Homes went on to write The End of Alice, in which a convicted pedophile and serial killer coming up for parole carries on a correspondence with a nineteen-year-old girl who’s currently committing statutory rape with a twelve year old boy in her neighborhood. Personally, I think she wrote The End of Alice just to piss off the religious right in retaliation for their bashing of Jack; I think this because I can’t think of any other reason a sane person would write The End of Alice.
Outside all the fuss and the furor and the “Most Challenged Books of the Year” lists, stands Jack, the book itself, as books always do, quietly and unassumingly looking a little chagrined about all the screaming going on over there in the school library. And Jack stands very unassuming, a simple little book with a simple little fellow as the protagonist. And, believe me, when I say it’s unassuming, this is not an insult or maybe you’ve never read any of these crazy “homosexual/coming of age” books or maybe you’ve never read a young adult novel at all. Maybe none of this is particularly politically correct to say, I don’t know, but young adult books are just pretty well always awful.
It seems quite common for a book for children to somehow reach beyond and say something archetypal to older readers. This happens, I think, because in the effort for total simplicity, there can’t help but be something of the collective unconscious. Young Adult books, on the other hand, are striving for just about everything but simplicity. Children’s books are like children; happy to be what they are and so happy in fact that they give tremendous joy to adults. Young Adult books aren’t happy to be what they are, again, like young adults. They’re trying to prove that they’re just as significant and important and mature and insightful as the great adult books, thus proving that insufferable teenagers exist in more than just human format. Like most teenage humans, most teenage books are wrong about their insight and hammering us with labored insight just causes problems. Like “flinging the book across the room” problems or “derisive laughter at a death scene” problems. I’m talking about Bette Greene, in case you’re wondering, but more on her later.
Anyway, all this to say that Jack is a rarity. It’s just a simple story and Jack’s disliking of homosexuality never really goes away through a dazzling flash of insight. He never really makes peace with his family being the way it is (and, by the way, the way it is, is very definitely jacked up). But he just learns to live with it. He has a moment, late in the book, shooting baskets in twilight that slowly shades into night with his father. As it ends, the two lay on the concrete together and Jack’s father offers a prayer: “This is how I always want to be,” he says and it’s a sentiment divorced from any preaching about sexuality and simply about life and joy. And Jack realizes that his father is still his father. If his sexuality stops moving Jack to nausea, it’s only because it stops really crossing his mind. This seems, more and more, like the way forward in reality. You see, some people may be unable to think about homosexuality without feeling sick due to conditioning or the way they were raised, but the answer is so simple as to be utterly above their heads: just stop thinking about it.
A.M. Homes may not be a perfect writer and Jack is occasionally a little draggy, but she’s come darn close to creating something I almost thought I’d never see: the non-obnoxious young adult novel. Homes has a daughter herself. I wonder what kind of teenager she’ll turn out to be. Probably not as a good a kid as Jack is a book, but we can hope.
3 ½ out of 5 stars.