Totally Joe

James Howe, Author . Atheneum/Seo $15.95 (189p) ISBN 978-0-689-83957-3

Delivering trenchant messages about tolerance, self-knowledge and the vacuity of teenage popularity, Howe's ultimately uplifting tale marks the welcome return of the Gang of Five (though there are really only four), introduced in The Misfits . The novel's innovative format reveals the "alphabiography" of 13-year-old Joe Bunch, the gay member of the seventh-grade misfits. In this alphabetical survey, assigned by his English teacher, he shares his heartfelt, snappy reflections. For "A is for Addie," he recalls his earlier years, when he liked to dress up and play with Barbie dolls (a pastime that bonded him to Addie, also from the Gang of Five). He confesses that in fifth grade he wanted to be a "guy-guy" so badly that he asked his friend to teach him how ("Oh. My. God. It was pathetic"). Joe has a crush on "totally cool, smart" Colin (the "C" entry), a jock who returns his affection but is not ready to go public with their relationship and eventually calls it off. Encouraged by his insightful aunt, Joe takes a major leap when he comes out to his supportive family. Howe deals with weighty issues, but uses Joe's affable personality to interject ample humor, and the hero ends each segment with a "Life Lesson," many presenting principles appropriate to any kid (e.g., "Just be who you are, okay?"). This narrator is anything but an average Joe: he's candid, memorable and—though he might find this hard to believe—totally charismatic. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/03/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
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