Friday, September 4, 2020

Book Review: "Flamer" by Mike Curato

"I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

"I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel...unsafe."

Mike Curato's Flamer is a powerful, emotional graphic novel about friendship, self-esteem, sexuality, and the battle between being like everyone else to “fit in” and being yourself. It's about feeling so down, so alone, that you don't know what to do or where to turn.

It's the summer before Aiden is scheduled to start high school. He's nervous about it—as much as he hopes it will be a different experience than middle school, he worries that he'll just be trading one set of bullies for another. He's tired of being teased for everything. In middle school, bullies called him gay, they made fun of his being pudgy, not being particularly athletic, and for being half-Filipino. He hated always having to be on guard, and isn't looking forward to high school for the very same reason.

But now, Aiden is in his happy place: scouting camp. He feels a little more a part of things there, and finds things he's good at, like making and tending to the campfire, helping cook, weaving bracelets, and making people laugh. But this year, there are bullies at camp, too, and it's causing him to doubt himself. And for reasons he doesn't understand, he can't stop thinking about his friend Elias, and it's making things weird for him—and it threatens to ruin their friendship and his whole summer, too.

For a graphic novel, Flamer really packs a punch. It deals with serious issues, such as thoughts of suicide, which are sadly all too common in teenagers, especially those struggling with their identities and sexuality. There is a tremendous amount of emotion, pain, and hope packed into Curato's illustrations and words.

This really was good and it struck a chord with me emotionally. I definitely identified with Aiden in a number of ways. Flamer is based on Curato’s own experiences, and you can feel that connection on every page. It reminded me how beautiful it is to find friends who “get” you, even if it may take longer than you’d hope.

I hope we'll see Aiden again in another book!

I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for this book. Storygram Tours, Fierce Reads, Henry Holt & Company, and Mike Curato provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

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