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Geography Club    by Brent Hartinger Amazon.com order for
Geography Club
by Brent Hartinger
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTempest, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Sixteen-year-old Russel Middlebrook is lonely; he is positive that he is the only gay teen at his high school. However, his world gets turned upside down one night. Chatting online, he meets another gay teen from his town who happens to be in the same class as Russel. They agree to meet, and soon Russel is dating the most popular baseball player at Goodkind High. Russel also learns that his best female friend, Min, is bisexual and that her girlfriend also goes to Goodkind.

The four meet for pizza and are joined by a third guy. Desiring to meet more often, and in a more secret location, they decide to form a club. Afraid of what other may think if they form a Gay-Straight Alliance, they decide to call their club something so boring that no one else would join thus the Geography Club is born. But even though Russel is no longer lonely, his problems have not ended. Russel's other best friend, Gunnar, keeps dragging Russel on double dates. The girl Russel is paired up with really likes him, and Russel is not sure how to fend her off without telling her the truth. Also, things at school are heating up as the school newspaper reports that a student talked to the controversial Health teacher about forming a support group for gay teens. Russel is not sure how he will survive high school without his secret becoming public.

I have never read a young adult novel in which the protagonist was gay, so Brent Hartinger's Geography Club was a new and delightful experience for me. His characters are real and their problems believable (unlike the Young Adult novels I read as a teenager that were completely out-of-touch, and there are still some like that cropping up today). Russel is realistic he often tries to do the right thing, but sometimes he can't help giving in to peer pressure in order to be accepted and keep the status quo. Also, unlike in many other teen novels that deal with relationships (as most do), Hartinger does not let his veer into the typical schmaltzy ending. Russel has to make real choices in the end: choices that aren't easy, choices that I might not have made.

Another thing that made the book so wonderful was the way that Hartinger dealt with Russel's sexuality. Russel is just your average high school student who happens to prefer guys over girls. This is never thrust in the reader's face in any way. There are even times when Russel admits to a few stereotypes like loving Disney animated musicals or feeling like he just won a beauty pageant when he hits the winning home run. This also helps in making the reader comfortable. While on the surface, Geography Club is about a gay teen trying to fit it, it is really about any teenager who is trying to fit in. In my experience (both having been one and working with them), that includes every teen.

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