________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 14. . . .December 7, 2012


Homo. (SideStreets series).

Michael Harris.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2012.
142 pp., pbk., hc. & Ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $8.95 (Ebook). ISBN 978-1-4594-0191-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0192-1 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0193-8 (Ebook).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4



“But do ask this man out,” said Daniel. He linked his arm through mine for a few steps, like we were characters in Pride and Prejudice. I surprised myself by not pulling away. But as we got close to the school, Daniel’s self-preservation kicked in and he let go on his own. He was quiet for just a few steps, a century in his world. “That dad at the Spaghetti Factory called me a fag, by the way. Not a princess.”


“When I was staring at his son and he caught me. He turned around and said ‘Eyes on your own table, you little faggot.’ If he’d just called me a princess, I would’ve given him a curtsy and forgotten about it.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes, Will, it does.” Daniel stopped walking and fixed his scarf, which he had tied in some elaborate knot under his jacket. “So when I tell you to go on a date with a nice guy from ManTracker, it’s not just because I think you need to get some action - although I do think that. It’s because the world is still full of hateful, ignorant people. And if you don’t grab at the occasional nice guy, you’re going to miss out.?

“Good advice,” I said.

“I know.” He looked up at the cracked, grey walls of the school and got quiet again. Only for a second. Then it was kiss-kiss, fluttery eyes and, staring me down, he said just one word (with a French accent) - “Courage.” And off he flew.


Will Johnson, 17, struggles through his final year of high school, aiming to escape stultifying homophobic Chilliwack. Although Will has come out to his parents and to his best friend Julie, he has yet to find a relationship. His high school’s one gay student, Daniel, encourages Will to look online, and Will finds himself driving in to Vancouver to meet 23-year-old Riley. A new world of urban sophistication centred around bars and even cocaine opens up for Will, but his world comes crashing down when Riley reveals his AIDS diagnosis after they have had sex. Will re-connects with Julie and Daniel, publically standing up for Daniel when it really matters. Julie settles into a local college while Daniel is accepted at McGill and Will sets out for UBC.

     Will is thoughtful and perceptive, accepting of his sexuality but as nervous and yearning as any high school student. His attempts to cope are completely realistic. He teeters on the edge of an honest relationship with his parents who fight to protect him and understand him. His honest, brutal assessment of Julie’s obsession with her father’s alcoholism and her lack of future goals is shocking, but realistic as he sees his own future as the only worthwhile one at first. He still remains friends with her, and they support each other. Will gradually begins to be friends with Daniel as well and grows as a character as he slowly becomes less self-centred and starts to understand the bullying Daniel has suffered and the courage with which he has met it. Adam Becker is the stereotypical intolerant jock while Riley represents the hollow young man who builds a carefree life as he deals with AIDS and an uncertain future. Daniel, totally out of the closet, complete with eye makeup, fluttering gestures and gay website advice, presents in a defiant, fearless way but is ultimately so vulnerable that the reader’s heart goes out to him. As Will draws closer to understanding Daniel’s pain, he comments that he and Julie and Daniel are “gentler” with each other, each holding the other’s fragility carefully, with respect and love.

     The high school scenes are both boring and ugly in their nastiness. Will’s disconnect with his teachers and classes is painfully clear as he focuses totally on his sexuality and his relationships. Riley teaches Will to swim better, and Will uses this new-found skill to feel better physically and mentally. Will’s interest in astronomy also helps him to focus and to keep the bigger picture in mind.

     The setting is undeniably Canadian, from Wreck Beach to the “sticky back row of the Cottonwood Cinema” in Chilliwack.

     Homo will be an important book for gay and straight students alike. Although it is written for struggling readers at a 4.3 grade level, (one of the “SideStreets” series) the issues it raises are critical and worthy of serious consideration by all older teenagers. Kudos to Lorimer for fearlessly addressing issues that really matter to high school students.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a bookseller in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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