Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book Review: "Brave Face: A Memoir" by Shaun David Hutchinson

Shaun David Hutchinson is one of my favorite YA authors. His books—particularly We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe—are full of emotion, pain, love, and, ultimately, hope. I've always wondered how a writer can plumb such difficult emotional depths, and after reading Hutchinson's new memoir, Brave Face, I understand that he has traveled those depths, and only now has the perspective to reflect upon them.

The teenage years are difficult for many to navigate emotionally. When Hutchinson realized, after a number of years of dating various female classmates, that he was gay, he didn't know how to handle it. His views, and what he believed were society's views of gay people, were the stereotypically flamboyant and fussy characters he saw in movies and on television, and he worried that if he acknowledged his sexuality, he'd doom himself to a life of tawdry sex and drugs and, ultimately, death from AIDS.

As if this self-loathing wasn't enough, Hutchinson simultaneously wanted to find people like him and wanted nothing to do with other gay people, for fear that he'd open himself up to the threat of violence, or worse, AIDS. But in the midst of this difficult period of depression, he realized that writing was cathartic, although he didn't necessarily think he had any writing talent.

Brave Face is a difficult book to read because of Hutchinson's extreme depression and self-loathing, especially because he didn't understand why he felt the way he did. He used cutting and burning, and sometimes punching a file cabinet, to help alleviate some of the emotional pressure, but he never felt truly better. Even meeting other gay men didn't seem to work, because he didn't believe he was worthy of being loved, so he pushed away those who really cared about him and instead wound up with people who hurt him and his self-worth even more.

As difficult as this book is to read, however, it is an important one. I definitely recognized glimpses of myself at that period of my life while reading this book, and although I didn't experience the lows that Hutchinson did, there definitely were times I felt truly alone and unworthy, and wondered what the point of continuing to live truly was. Luckily, I had a stronger support network of friends who were able to lift me up, but it was still a difficult time.

"I'd begun to realize that my fear of being gay and my depression were two separate issues. I wasn't depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and I was gay. Being gay doesn't make a person depressed any more than being depressed makes a person gay. My self-hate was caused by my complete misunderstanding of myself and what being gay meant. My depression simply used it as a way to beat me down."

One of the messages that many in the LGBTQ community have shared over the last 10 years or so is "It Gets Better." While some have criticized that as an easy cop-out, because it may get harder before it gets better, and sometimes being told it gets better while you're at your lowest actually makes you feel worse. Hutchinson acknowledges that difficulty—sometimes it gets worse and it gets better. But it can get better.

"The problem had never been that I didn't know who I was; it was that I'd assumed who I was wasn't good enough. But he was. I was. And you are too."

I loved this book and hope it finds its way into the hands of those who need it. Even years after those struggles I still need to hear some of the things Hutchinson had to say, and his voice is as powerful in his memoir as it is in his novels. He acknowledges that it was difficult to write this book at times, but I'm so glad he did, because we needed to hear his words, see his experiences and his emotions through the filter of our own lives.

Perhaps this book will help some realize that when they feel most alone, that no one understands them, someone does.

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