Title: An Ordinary Boy
Author: Brian Centrone
Cover artist: Luke Kurtis
Publisher: Seventh Window Publications
Buy link: An Ordinary Boy;
Length: 273 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guest review by Orion
Review summary: An engaging story of a young man coming to terms with himself.
Blurb: Tom Grove’s family is rich, his grandparents are famous, and he’s beautiful. He can have anything he wants, but all Tom really wants is to be an ordinary boy. Like his best friend, Marissa, Tom wants to fit in, make friends and date sexy boys. It would also help if he could be free of his father’s weighty expectations, his mother’s insane demands, and his older brother’s snide remarks.
When Tom begins his first year of college, he believes he’s going to come out and start a new life.
But Tom’s plan to come out of the closet and meet hot college boys isn’t exactly foolproof. His new roommate is a straight jock, the gay club at school is made up of outcasts, and the lines between going out to dinner and a date are blurry at best.
If that wasn’t a challenge enough, Tom has to learn how to navigate drunken college parties, the campus social hierarchy, and the attentions of the wrong sort of boys. What begins as a journey to independence turns into a series of mishaps, love, heartache, soul searching, awkward situations and the realization that life is less like an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog and more like the everyday low prices of Wal-Mart.
Review: When I decided to review this book, the publisher was careful to point out that it isn’t a romance. While it has some of the elements of a romance, I neither read nor judged it as such.
When we meet Tom, he is being delivered to his college dorm room by his conservative, smothering parents. He can’t wait to be free of them, and I could hardly blame him. His mother is so overbearing, she even wants to select the artwork Tom will display on the walls. He takes silent exception to that. This is the way the author puts it: “There was no way Tom wanted a floral vagina in his room, oil based or otherwise.” What healthy, self-respecting gay guy would?
Gradually, the other important figures in Tom’s new college life present themselves. His roommate, Joey, is attending college on a football scholarship. With his mussed hair and non-designer clothes, he appears to come from the opposite side of the tracks as Tom and his well-to-do family. Tom is briefly attracted to Joey, until it becomes clear that Joey is straight. At a social gathering, Tom spots a stocky, somewhat mysterious guy he dubs “Snacks” who seems to be attracted to him. We later learn this is Isaac, president of the school’s LGBT&F (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Friends, if I remember correctly) club.
Tom is anxious to join LGBT&F. He is ready to spread his wings and enjoy this independence, and as a young virgin gay man, he has this fantasy that the LGBT&F club will be filled with hot, attractive young guys. He is sadly disappointed. The club has Wiccans and feminists and what Tom apparently considers to be a couple of nerdy boys. Tom’s friend and blossoming fag hag Marissa keeps popping up, and Tom begins to bond with Darren, a guy from the LGBT&F club, after running into him at a language lab.
But it is with Matt that Tom finally seems to get his chance at having the boyfriend he desperately wants. Oddly enough, he meets Matt through his mother, who is friends with Matt’s mother. Tom and Matt, instantly attracted to each other, disappear into a closet to exchange hand jobs. Later, Matt shows up unexpectedly at the Grove’s home on Christmas day. He is very explicit in his affection for Tom, and before you know it, Tom’s closet door is wide open.
As in a romance, this is where things begin to get complicated. As Tom gets to know Matt, some of Matt’s luster fades and, because of some miscommunication, Tom starts to wonder about Matt’s feelings for him. Tom also finds himself thinking about the possibility of Darren being his boyfriend. Additionally, he is struggling with all of the issues that come with being an openly gay young man in a world of stuffy, disapproving, and homophobic old conservatives. All of this leads to some very poor choices on Tom’s part, choices that affect his relationship with his friends and could potentially change his life in a deadly way.
But this is definitely not a romance novel. It is a coming of age story, about a young man who is trying to determine who he is and where he fits in the world. Tom is a flawed but ultimately likeable character. He is shallow in the beginning, judging the people he meets by the clothes they wear and ruling out guys as potential dates based on their looks or body type. He is young and naïve, and this makes it easy for older, more experienced guys to take advantage of him. But he changes as the novel progresses, maturing through his experiences, and that is exactly what I want to see in a novel like this.
The only character in this book who felt a bit sketchy to me was Tom’s father. The other characters were real enough, especially Tom. There were several points where I could feel his confusion and his pain. This story makes it clear that stepping out of your parents’ home into the big, wide world can indeed be exciting, but it can also be scary. For a young reader who is about to leave home, this may serve as a cautionary tale. For older readers, it may bring back happy and not-so-happy memories of this key point in their lives. The author puts you squarely in Tom’s shoes as this sheltered kid begins to navigate through adulthood.
There is some very graphic sex here, and an instance of what could be considered date rape. While I think the themes of this book would resonate with teenagers, I wouldn’t recommend it as a young adult novel. Sex and date rape are certainly topics that should be, and have been, the subject of young adult books, but Centrone uses sex (except for the date rape) to titillate, which makes this novel one for adults only in my opinion. I ran across a few typos and errors in syntax, but not enough to be distracting. Everything is not wrapped up nice and neat at the end, but that’s how the real world works. And this story is not about Tom’s romances but about his self-discovery. In that sense, the ending is quite satisfying. Brian Centrone’s writing is full of wit, and it is obvious that he put a lot of effort into this. If you enjoy a good coming of age story, this is a fine one to add to your collection.