Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Almost Home
By Jessica Blank

Gay Teens

Every book these days with even a peripheral gay character seems to get a gay interest subject cataloging. Almost Home is not a book that is really going to tell you much about being a gay teen, but it has something important to say to troubled gay teens and all teens who find themselves in domestic situations that are just too hard to handle. The story is constructed around an ensemble cast of seven teen characters, each who narrate their own story. One of the characters happens to be gay, but this book is primarily about teen runaways and the life led by homeless teenagers on the street. It is an important and disturbing book, breaking new ground in fiction for young adults and presenting an unflinching portrait of what life is like for so many of the 1.5 million teens who run away from home annually, as well as the million or more other teens who have been kicked out or abandoned by their parents.

The setting of this novel is Hollywood, West Los Angeles, and Venice, locations that all of us living in this town have driven through. And we’ve seen these kids and maybe given them a passing thought, but have not had much of a sense of what their lives are like or how they survive. For many, too young to be employed or hiding out, they survive by panhandling, drug dealing, and prostitution. The city itself is a character in this book, self-absorbed, noisy, sunny, and trashed. While congested it still manages to be profoundly vacant. There is some literary license here. Teens who speak in this book are perhaps too articulate and in diction sound too much alike, but we do get unique and individualized psychological portraits that feel authentic and enable us to understand and be moved by their experiences. So often the victims of physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect, and family addictions, they trade one environment of vulnerability for one that is just as merciless.

Thirty-five to fifty percent of homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and most of them have been kicked out of their homes for who they are. The desire to build some kind of home remains, even on the streets, where it takes on a desperate insistence, but as Almost Home makes so tragically clear, the streets are not a place where wrongs will be repaired or any safe haven will be realized. Sometimes all you can do is run, but you’ve got to get away to a place that can make a difference, not a place of continued exploitation and hopelessness. The author appends a list of people, places, and services that can help. But don’t dismiss this book as mere social advocacy. You would be missing some enlightenment and some remarkably good literature.

1 comment:

Teen Runaway said...

This sondfs remniscent of a book which I myself penned a short time ago entitled "Where Do the Children Go? A Runaway's Story" by James A. Kinney, Esq. (ISBN# 1-60474-444-8). As a former runaway myself, some twenty-odd years back, I can honestly agree with the author of this book; the streets are no safe haven for runaways. Domestic situations are usually the leading cause of a runaway situation as was true in my own case. I had a brother, ten years my senior and a body-builder at that, who systematically and regularly abused me. Hence, I had to get out. All I found on the streets was more and more exploitation, drugs, crime and trouble.

I can appreciate the author attaching an appendix of "help organizations" to the book. Key now is to get teens to read it!