Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Band Fags!" by Frank Anthony Polito

Jack Paterno's seventh-grade year starts out well; he meets Brad Dayton, the boy who will become his best friend for the remainder of their time in the Hazel Park school system. It's 1982 and life is good - Jack has an Atari 5200, a Beta VCR (which he uses religiously to tape episodes of Days of Our Lives), and a decent family life, even if he does have to share his room with his kid brother (in a bunk bed, no less). Jack has a lot of friends at school, too, mostly girls, but they're not girlfriends, if you know what I mean. Although he does have crushes on several girls, and even "goes with" a few of them, always to be left broken-hearted in the end.

As the friendship between Jack and Brad grows, so does the tension. Brad is sure he's like that and doesn't see anything wrong with being gay (the author wisely uses the "g" word very sparingly, which makes sense in this context - saying it gives it more meaning). Jack is most likely like that but refuses to admit it, and by the time they reach their Senior Year, Jack even goes so far as to drop out of band in an attempt to make himself into one of the "cool" kids. He lands the position of editor of the school paper, as well as working on the Yearbook, two things that definitely have him hanging out with a "better" crowd. But at what price? Can Jack really be happy denying who he really is? And without his fellow Band Fags?

I know, it doesn't sound like much. And in some ways, it's not. This is basically like reading the diary of a young boy from 7th grade through graduation, although it is written in novel form, first person perspective. I did like Jack, as well as a lot of his friends, and indeed I knew a few guys like Jack - very popular with the girls, but not necessarily having actual "girlfriends". I was a little disappointed that this book wasn't a bit more, hmmm.... serious, I guess, as the whole sexuality issue is a very serious thing for teens. And I can remember what it was like growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 80's myself - not a good place to be if you had gender issues. There are a few serious moments, but it felt like Polito was holding back on us, the reader, afraid to go too far for fear of losing us. There's a lot of high-school humor, and there are tons of 80's references (I loved that each chapter opened with lyrics from a popular song at the time, and even identified the band/singer!). I have to admit to feeling a bit nostalgic at times.

My main complaint is that there's not much here for previous band kids. I know, the title refers more to Jack's sexuality and less to his actual time with the school band, but that's what attracted me to the book. I was one of the "band fags" at my school, playing the alto saxophone all through junior high and high school. I was hoping to hear about band trips, especially all the shenanigans on the buses (wow, the stories I could tell!), the overnight trips, etc. Sadly, there's a few references to some marching band contests but that's about it. There could have been lots of potential for drama there!

Overall, it was an entertaining read, but I wasn't in love with it. As it turns out, there's a sort of companion piece, "Drama Queers!"; the story this time revolves around Brad, who wants nothing more than to be a famous actor when he grows up. The storyline runs parallel to Jack's, just from Brad's view this time. It might be interesting to pick up, but it's not something that I feel I must read.


Frank Anthony Polito said...

Thanks for taking the time to read my book and blog about it. MUCH appreciated!

Traci (aka the Bookbabe) said...

No problem! I love to find new authors, and I love to talk about books with people, so a blog of book reviews made total sense.

Thanks for thanking me - it's so nice to know that people are reading this!