Title: My Life as a Myth
Author: Huston Piner
Publisher: NineStar Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Length: 225 pages
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Guest review by Orion
Review summary: An emotional young adult novel, full of angst.
Blurb: 1969 freshman Nick Horton has problems. He suffers from bouts of depression, he’s a high school social outcast, and he doesn’t understand why he’s not attracted to girls. So when a series of misunderstandings label him a troublemaker, he’s delighted to have Jesse Gaston and Jesse’s gang befriend him. Nick wants to explore his attraction to Bobby Warren, but Jesse promises to give him a new image and soon transforms the shy loser into an anti-establishment student hero.
Thanks to his new reputation, Nick finds himself besieged by would-be girlfriends and expectations that he live up to his public image. As Jesse’s PR campaign becomes more and more outrageous, Nick’s road quickly becomes littered with ridiculous misadventures and unexpected psychedelic explorations. Meanwhile he struggles to understand his emerging romance with Bobby while dealing with the Vietnam War’s continuing impact on his family and the dangerous goings-on at school.
Nick’s freshman year is a remarkable journey of struggle with his unwanted reputation and his deepening passion for Bobby. Is a world still reeling from the sexual revolution, Acid Rock, and the illicit pleasures of underage drinking and pot smoking ready to accept two boys in love? Will Nick and Bobby’s love survive or will the world’s prejudices drive them apart?
Review: The fact that this story takes place in 1969 immediately drew me in. It’s set far enough in the past to make the fact of Nick’s homosexuality much more precarious than it would be today, but not so far back as to give me that odd, stiff sensation I get when reading historical novels. Nick is your typical high school student, which is to say he feels like a social misfit and desperately wants to fit in. Neither smart, athletically talented, nor popular, he doesn’t really see a place for himself. Oh, and then there’s the fact that looking at naked women in Playboy magazine makes him want to gag. What is a young man approaching the peak of his testosterone levels supposed to make of that? Through no fault of his own, Nick actually finds himself part of the “in” crowd after the school’s administration mistakenly labels him a trouble-maker. This gets him the attention of Jesse Gaston and his gang of friends, and suddenly Nick is considered a cool guy and graced with the nickname Napalm Nick.
This is all hilarious. The novel is told through a series of journal entries by Nick and, later, by Bobby, a new friend to whom Nick grows powerfully attracted. Nick details the mishaps of his first days of high school in a funny, self-deprecating fashion that makes him likeable and real. He comes across as an ordinary kid, facing ordinary adolescent situations. But there is a lot more going on here.
Nick has two older brothers, one of whom has been killed while fighting overseas for his country. The other, Raymond, is a hippie, dropout, and doper, so anti-establishment that his parents have cut him off and no longer speak his name around the house. Raymond works his way back into the family picture, however, redoing his image and seemingly making an effort to become the responsible young man his parents want him to be. Raymond has an ulterior motive, however, one that leads to a violent confrontation with his dad and a tragic event that puts an awful spin on the lives of the entire family.
Additionally, Nick and Bobby face horrible homophobia. The characters engage in a lot of recreational drug use. Without giving too much away, the ending is hardly happily ever after. Some readers may be put off by these things, particularly the drug use, as they were in Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary. Some may see such details as making for a depressing read, or encouraging kids to abuse drugs. I didn’t find any of that to be the case in reading this book. It is true that the piling up of awful events in Nick’s life come perilously close to melodrama, but the author manages to pull himself back before going completely over the edge, maintaining firm control of his story.
About himself, the author says: “My goals are to present characters dealing with situations and difficulties young adults really face, written with understanding and humor, and to challenge closed minds to reconsider preconceived notions.” What I think the author does in this novel is provide a realistic depiction of the struggles an ordinary young gay person may experience. Some of it is sad, some of it is scary, and some of it is maddening, but it is also funny, insightful, and, ultimately, hopeful. The bittersweet ending is appropriate to the preceding events and to time in which the book is set. This novel is well worth reading.