Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Side Door by Jan Donley

Publisher:                 Spinsters Ink

New Moon Falls is a place where people like conformity and secrets are to be kept.  Fifteen year old Melrose Bird has trouble with all of that.  With her bristle haircut, baggy cargo pants and androgynous appearance, Mel certainly doesn't conform to the image most people have of a girl and there's a secret she just won't leave alone.  On her first day of high school she sees the mother of Alex Weber sitting on a bench just staring at the school.  Alex hanged himself five years before, but no one in the town wants to talk about it.  Mel and her friend Frank become obsessed with Alex, his grave and why no one seems to care about what happened to him.  As Mel and Frank struggle to come to an awareness of themselves, they come to expect little help from their peers or the adults who surround them.

The Side Door is a well-written story because it captures the way a fifteen year old sees the world with great accuracy.  Mel has the conviction of someone with a limited world view because of her age.  From her perspective, she is the only one who is seeking the truth, anyone who disagrees with her is wrong, anyone who won't help her is a coward.  She faces situations with great bravery, but also with a total disregard of the feelings of other people, just like a fifteen year old.  No one will keep Mel from doing what she thinks is needed, even if she's wrong.

This book isn't a typical coming out story.  Mel doesn't find her true love and experience her first sexual encounter.  Instead it's a picture of kids discovering the uglier side of being gay, trying to change that against great odds and being partially successful.  It also has an interesting contrasting character in a teacher Mel turns to for support.  She represents a generation of women who created the atmosphere where Mel can be herself, but didn't experience it themselves.  The book misses a real chance to be richer by exploring that character a little more.

The Side Door is not the type of book to give to teenagers to help them figure out why they feel different and it doesn't speak to the experiences of all young gay people.  Instead, it's a book that might help an adult understand better what it means to be one type of those kids and how adults appear through their eyes.

No comments:

Post a Comment