CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 2 . . . .September 15, 2006
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
271 pp., cloth, $19.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Jennifer Caldwell.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Couples break up for lots of reasons, but if Cam and I split, that would be why- I was skewed. And with all the talk about gays and lesbians these days, someone would eventually figure it out. Once they did, it would get around. Then everyone would know. Everyone would know that deep inside, in the deepest core place, Dylan Kowolski was wrong.
So there it was inside me, that wrongness, the way I felt about Joc. It lived, shoved down deep, a kind of spell or threat, like that song by Alanis Morissette - "Fear of Bliss." Though I knew they were there, I never let my mind open onto the deepest feelings I had for Joc. I could feel them sometimes, moving around my gut, but if they ever came into my mind, if even a second of a daydream about kissing or touching her entered my thoughts, I would shove it back down and slam a door on it. That kind of thinking was forbidden. If we were going to be friends - best friends, the best of best friends, I couldn't let myself even think about the secret flame she hadn't seen that night in grade seven, burning between my legs.
The title Hello, Groin matches the pushbutton subject matter addressed in the story. Beth Goobie once again unflinchingly includes topics that will make some readers uncomfortable, but her sensual, sophisticated writing treats these realistic and controversial subjects with compassion, reality, and forthrightness.
From the outside, 16-year-old Dylan Kowolski's life looks like a teenager's dream: she hangs out with the popular crowd, she does well enough in school, she's good at sports, she's got a sexy super-star boyfriend, she's close with her loving family, and she makes good decisions. However, Dylan struggles with issues of sexuality and identity. She's suspected that she might be a lesbian since she and her best friend, Jocelyn, compared body parts in grade seven. Dylan isn't turned on by her heroic, sweet, and popular boyfriend Cam, and when word gets out that they're not having sex, the peer pressure becomes intense.
Dylan narrates the story, and her confusion, frustration, fear, and ultimately her strength shine through touchingly and believably. As the girlfriend of the truly likeable Cam, she is exempt from the wrath of the reputation-smearing "phone patrol" girls who succeed in subtly hazing someone off the volleyball team because they decided she was a lesbian. Dylan realizes her precarious position and, at first, tries to "worship the semi-divines," agreeing with everything they say, accompanying them on shoplifting trips, and putting up with a horrendous makeover. By doing so, she exposes herself to their barbed comments about her (lack of) sex life. Goobie lays bare peer pressure techniques and the power of cliques, and her extraordinary knack for writing realistic teen dialogue and motivation makes the story immediate and believable.
At the beginning of the book, Dylan rejects her feelings when the inkling of a homosexual longing arises. As the story progresses, Dylan allows herself to daydream about other girls, masturbate, and even kiss a girl at a dance. The power of those experiences pushes her to accept her sexual orientation, and she slowly discovers the strength to stand up for herself. This includes eventually coming out to Cam, her family, and Jocelyn, as well as defending her views at school. The adults' reactions were not as uniformly sunny as they first seemed, and all characters remained true to their natures.
One of the many strengths of this novel is its insight into Dylan's thought processes. It reads like an intimate journal or a letter from a best friend in intimacy, but not style. Dylan's internal conflict is the true heart of Hello, Groin.
Goobie invokes all five senses as she describes the setting, and the inner workings of Dylan's mind. The text is modern: kids use cell phones and play video games, and there's a reference to terrorism. Alanis Morissette's "Feast on Scraps" album provides the soundtrack for this novel, and the lyrics of the album support the themes of the book. At the same time, the story is timeless, since generation after generation has struggled with peer pressure and sexuality. The important characters are multidimensional and experience growth and change, and the supporting characters play their roles to perfection.
Goobie sensitively portrays a variety of perspectives regarding homosexuality. Dylan feels confused and longs to be "normal." The popular, homophobic "phone patrol" and football players harass anyone they suspect might be homosexual. Cam feels that Dylan's lack of physical desire is his fault. The mysterious librarian never interferes with Dylan's process but may know what's going on. At home, Dylan's parents always expected her to have kids and a husband, but they support her when she comes out to them. Her five-year-old sister Keelie wants to dress up as a lesbian for Halloween so she can be like Dylan. At the end, Dylan's newfound girlfriend's brother freaks out and yells at them for "fagging around," and the girlfriend's mother defends them but without any emotional warmth.
Beth Goobie has won numerous prestigious awards for her previous novels, and her writing is in top form for Hello, Groin. This story is about being true to oneself despite peer pressure, which is something all teens can relate to.
Jennifer Caldwell is a youth librarian at Richmond Public Library in Richmond, BC.
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