Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gay Teens: Gemini Bites

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

Gemini Bites is Patrick Ryan’s fourth novel for gay teens, and probably his best. The humor is broader, and the plot lures readers with what might be described as a sexual identity and romantic seduction mystery. Judy and Kyle Renneker are brother and sister teenage twins, part of the large and unwieldy Renneker family, where you sometimes seem pretty much on your own in the general confusion and multiple demands for parental affection. Kyle is gay, and out to his family, something he announces formally at what turns out to be an anti-climactic non-event. The problem in his family is not that he is gay; it’s that his twin sister inexplicably hates him, and they are involved in a comically vicious sibling rivalry where one or the other must always be the winner. Things really start to heat up when they learn that their father has arranged for a classmate they barely know to stay with the family for the last month of the school term. Garrett Johnson’s parents have had to leave town to take up his father’s new job assignment in San Diego, and they want Garrett to be able to finish out the school term at his current school.

But Garrett is not your ordinary boy. He dyes his hair black, wears black eyeliner, is aloof, speaks cryptically, and apparently is involved in an apprenticeship to be a vampire. He is also hot, and becomes the object of the rival desires of both Judy and Kyle, who doubt Garrett’s vampire pose, but don’t really have a clue as to his sexual orientation. The ensuing comedy of manners, fueled by sibling rivalry, desire, and stupendously awkward attempts at seduction, is a send-up of the current teen vampire genre as well as an indulgent story about the foibles of young love.

There are generally two kinds of novels written for gay youth. The first is rather serious and focuses on the troubles that come with being gay; it is concerned with the differences between the experience of gay youth and their heterosexual peers. In these novels, families are usually hostile to gay youth or generally unsupportive. In the other sort of “gay” novel, gay youth are part of families that are accepting and supportive, they have circles of friends their own age and find themselves part of a group that usually contains both gay and heterosexual friends. Their experiences in developing a sense of self identity and making their first romantic moves towards others are shown to be common experiences shared by all youth. The similarity of gay youth to their peers, rather than their differences, is the reassuring message of these types of novels, the kind Patrick Ryan writes. This is not to say that in the “lighter” story line of these types of novels they might not have some serious point to make. In Gemini Bites, Ryan shows that the various identity poses of youth can be protective, and have their origin in common fears associated with growing up. Dishonesty in presenting your true self is sure to make things more difficult and awkward for you than they must inevitably be. The problem with the “happy” gay novel, however, is that sometimes the world gets just a little too ideal; acceptance seems to go over the top and get a little surreal. In one of Ryan’s earlier novels, The Saints of Augustine, the gay protagonist’s heterosexual friend, accepting the character’s homosexuality, asks if he can kiss him, just because he wants to know how he rates as a kisser. And in Gemini Bites, Kyle’s mother ends up sort of pimping for him. That’s a bit more than any gay boy ever dreamed of or wanted from a parent, and gosh, it’s just a little bit creepy. But mostly this is all just a fun read, in which teens straight and gay (and would-be vampires too!) will recognize themselves.

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