cover image The World of Normal Boys

The World of Normal Boys

K. M. Soehnlein, Soehnlein. Kensington Publishing Corporation, $22 (292pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-595-5

Late 1970s New Jersey is the backdrop for this gay coming-of-age novel by newcomer Soehnlein. As he starts his freshman year in high school in the fall of 1978, 13-year-old Robin MacKenzie is baffled by ""normal boys"" and men. Why, he wonders, do his salesman father, Clark, and his younger brother, Jackson, his crude uncle Stan and his oafish cousin Larry insult and torment other people, like Robin's 7th-grade sister Ruby, his chronically dissatisfied mother, Dorothy, and his new ""burnout"" friend, Scott Schatz? Robin already feels different because he has a collection of Broadway cast albums and helps his mother ""accessorize"" her clothing. Now the gulf between him and ""normal"" boys is widening: he is beginning to fantasize sexually not about girls but about other boys. Soehnlein depicts Robin's physical awakening with sensitivity, and also illuminates his struggles with new moral dilemmas, as he is forced to decide what to tell the adults about Jackson's fall from a playground slide, how to handle the mixed signals that he's getting from Todd Spicer, the older boy next door, and what to do about Scott's troubles with his abusive father. The third-person present-tense narrative presents an amusingly detailed and largely accurate picture of life in the Jersey 'burbs. Although marred a bit by rather facile psychologizing, Robin's story is ultimately a moving romance. That romance is not that of a boy with another boy (or man)--the clinical depictions of Robin's various sexual experiences are not particularly moving--but of a boy with a city: the New York where Robin lived as a small child; the New York he visits with his mother on their ""City Days"" throughout his childhood; the New York that remains, despite an ugly walk on its wild side, the city of Robin's dreams. Author tour. (Sept.)