Ever the vigilant YA GLBT fiction enthusiast (so many letters), I try to keep my eyes and ears open for anything new in the category. It’s often a hard quest, requiring star navigation and Google Maps routes. And then sometimes they just throw themselves at me. I found out about Way To Go after the author, Tom Ryan, followed me on twitter. As soon as I saw “gay” and “young adult” in the same sentence, I was in. So did it measure up? Let’s see.
Way to Go is set in early/mid-90s small town Canada (are there any gay teen books out there that actually take place in a BIG city or some shit? No? hm…) and centers around Danny, the hero of the piece. Danny is, you guessed it, coping with confusing feelings of homosexuality and big-fish-little-pond syndrome. Everyone suspects it, but he’s in denial. And when the mysteriously cool New York City girl shows up in town and happens to be a co-worker at his new summer job, he’s out to prove he’s totally into the v-jay.
Alright, now Way to Go isn’t going to take up too much of your time. This is a weekend afternoon read at the most. I knocked it out in 2 evenings, thanks to being damned tired from this new job ‘o mine. Anyways, the pacing is quick and coupled with the low page count, this one will be a breeze for most readers. Unfortunately, that’s one of the factors hurting this book.
The problem I had is that I feel like we didn’t accomplish much on this short ride. I never felt as though there was any clear goal in sight, other than for Danny to survive the summer before his final year of high school. I’m all for books where being gay isn’t the major issue at hand, but this is a rare moment where I felt it should have been more of the book’s focus. Danny may have talked plenty about fearing his gayness, but I never felt it.
Then there’s the whole shebang about Danny realizing he loves cooking and wants to make a career out of it. It played a little like this: “Hey, you suck at washing dishes, why don’t you peel potatoes? Oh, look at that, it’s been a month and you’re a whiz at whipping up a steak dinner. You should go to culinary school!” I take issue with that, but whatever. I guess it’s possible for a 17 year old to, after 2 months working in a kitchen, be deemed good enough to apply to an elite culinary school. Stranger things have happened (like Michael Griffo getting a f&#%ing book deal).
And the dialogue; maybe Canadians say mean things to each other and it’s all completely benign. I just find it hard to imagine someone telling me “It’s none of your business,” with a friendly smile on their face. Witnessing such a thing would fill me with fear of an immanent slap or make me think the person is completely unhinged. There were more than a few of these moments where the characters’ words didn’t seem to mesh with their actions.
One thing I was happy to NOT find here was a lot of melodrama. While the dialogue wasn’t great, it was at least honest and down-to-earth. There is one notable exception to this when, after learning his son wants to be a chef, Danny’s dad throws a hissy over the thought of spending money on cooking school.
I also didn’t care for the final chapter. It was far too saccharine. Like a bag of Skittles tied up with a little bow made of fondant. It was way too easy and all the conflicts (if there really were any to begin with) wrapped themselves up neatly. And that’s the real issue I have with the book: I don’t feel like anyone grew or evolved as a character. Danny barely manages to only come out a step or two ahead from where we first met him and everyone else is just kinda there in the background, doing their thing.
Honestly, the book isn’t bad. I’ve read bad books (still lookin’ at you, Griffo. You useless mother#*$& son of a $*@# who eats %&^@ for breakfast. GAH, IHATEYOUSOMUCH!) and this isn’t what I would consider to be one. But it’s definitely not going on my must-read list either. It’s a solid 2.5 to 3 that I would put alongside Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club and David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, two other books that left me equally underwhelmed.
It’s definitely a debut work, and I think there is room for Tom Ryan grow and produce more gay YA fiction, but, as per my extremely hard-to-please literary standards, for now I’ll have to withhold my seal of approval. But by all means, give it a shot. You may have like it more than me.