Several months ago a friend of mine posted about this book by Rafi Mittlefehldt, calling it a must read. I figured if it’s a must read, then I must read it!
It’s about a high school freshman named Mike who just moved to Virginia from Wisconsin with his parents and his little sister, Toby. In addition to starting at a new school, the family also finds a local Evangelical church and Mike’s dad is trying pretty hard to get on the board. They’re friends with another family who go to the same church, and while they’re nice enough, Mike seems less than comfortable with them – or at church for that matter.
Meanwhile, at school, Mike’s French teacher has assigned the class a semester-long project, which will make up a significant portion of their grade. They can team up with other classmates to do the project and Mike teams up with Sean.
The project involves Mike and Sean spending lots of time together alone at Sean’s house when his parents are out. Sean has no siblings so it gives the two boys plenty of time to just hang out and get to know each other, in addition to working on the project.
After turning in the project, Mike does something stupid in his art class and gets sent to the principal’s office. It was the indirect result of a bully in the class picking on Mike, plus the teacher really was being a dick, but that doesn’t excuse Mike’s stupidity. So his parents get called and his dad grounds him for the entire winter break, including his birthday.
But Sean sends Mike a Facebook message telling him to look out his window at 11:00 pm on his birthday. When he looks out, Sean is standing there with a bottle of wine and a couple wine glasses. Mike climbs out, they go to the beach, start making out, and get caught by the bully, who calls Sean’s dad videotapes the whole thing, and posts it to YouTube.
Mike’s dad responds by giving Mike a brochure for a gay camp. He doesn’t force Mike to go. He leaves the decision up to Mike, but he asks his son if he really wants to live like this.
Mike decides to go to the camp, but it’s predictably narrow minded and creepy and after a few days he runs away in the middle of the night. He can’t call his parents because they took his cell phone when he checked in at the camp and he has no internet access there.
He gets picked up by a ranger, tells him he ran away from home a couple hours ago, but changed his mind and was on his way back. When he tells the ranger where he’s from, the ranger starts chatting about what happened to “that student,” from Mike’s school. Mike has had no contact with the outside world, so he has no idea, but he can’t tell the ranger that so he has to get information out of him while making it seem like he knows what he’s talking about.
Turns out Sean drank a lot of beer, stole his parents’ car, and went speeding down the highway. He ended up flipping the car, which stopped when it wrapped around a tree trunk. Sean’s body was flown several feet from the car. They think he died instantly.
When the ranger asks his name, Mike gives him the last name of one of his friends. Miraculously, his mom plays along when the ranger calls her and drops Mike off at her house in the middle of the night. She lets Mike stay the night, but makes it clear she has to call his parents.
Mike’s dad is so angry he can’t even speak and his mom apparently can’t ever speak. Mike said she cried quietly all the way home and it was at this point I decided her superpassivity had better pay off before the end of the book. Throughout the book it was clear Dad was a homophobe, Toby was cool, and Mom refused to take sides. She sat silently on the sidelines while her husband tried in vain to get their son interested in sports and sent him to the gay camp.
It finally did pay off at Sean’s funeral, which Mike’s parents didn’t even tell him about. Toby told him about it and he watched from the bushes until his dad spotted him. He tried to get Mike to leave, but Mike refused. When Sean’s parents noticed, Mike’s dad apologized, but Sean’s mom pointed out they were being morons for trying to banish their son, who was still alive and well while hers was dead.
It was at this point that Mike’s mom finally spoke up in Mike’s defense and insisted Mike be given a chance to say goodbye to his friend. Thank goodness, because as I said, without that payoff, her passivity would have just annoyed me.
The whole book was written in a pretty matter-of-fact tone with very little embellishment and I kind of liked that. It was very bare bones, which meant it never felt like it was trying to beat the reader over the head with any kind of message. It presented the story as facts, with very little emotion, which is not to say it wasn’t heartwrenching – and occasionally heartwarming.
I wouldn’t say the book gets a happy ending, but Mike and his family are certainly better off than when the book started. Mom takes a more active role in the family, Dad backs off, Toby is still cool, and Mike is more comfortable with himself. Oh, and his two good friends turn out to be true friends and stick with him through the whole mess, which means he doesn’t have to worry about losing them and he spends a lot of time at their houses when he wants to be in a house with an awesome, supportive parent.
What did you guys read this week? Any other must reads?