A provocative and compelling YA about male friendship, loyalty and the search for heterosexual identity.
In this eloquent, poignant novel about male friendship and the search for heterosexual male identity, Sashi Kaufman explores how intense relationships anchor our view of ourselves in the world, and what happens when those relationships begin to unravel. Ben feels like a freak because he wears hearing aids. But being best friends with Tyler, the hottest guy in school, allows him to think of himself as normal--even though he knows he's just a little too dependent on Tyler. Then Tyler blows off Ben senior year and Ben doesn't know where he belongs or how to be fit in any more. Who is he without Tyler, and is Tyler really the"normal'' kid Ben thought he was anyway?
Sashi Kaufman is a middle-school science and English teacher, who lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband and daughter. She is also an amateur trash picker. http://sashikaufman.wordpress.com/
At the heart of Kaufman’s poignant novel is a complicated friendship between soccer players Ben, who is partially deaf, and Tyler, who is guarding a destructive secret. Ben has worn hearing aids for years, which make him feel like a freak. Tyler, one of the only nonwhite kids at school, has always understood Ben but seems to be pulling away. Through this increasingly strained relationship, Kaufman (The Other Way Around) confronts head-on boys’ fears that close friendships might make them ‘seem gay,’ even as Ben and Tyler realize how much they need each other. As Ben’s worries about Tyler grow, he is determined to support his friend, though Tyler’s secret is bigger than Ben imagined. While Ben and Tyler’s relationship is central, Kaufman sensitively recounts Ben’s struggle to feel ‘normal’ and his romantic explorations with girls; a blue-haired girl named Ilona, who has no problem with the label ‘freak,’ proves key in helping Ben understand himself and reconnect with Tyler. It’s a keenly observed, emotionally deep examination of wounded, insecure teens trying to find their way
Kaufman brings a fresh voice to the contemporary realistic fiction genre. VERDICT: This will appeal to those who enjoy Carrie Mesrobian’s books.
School Library Journal
Ben Wireman’s last name is a constant reminder that his hearing aids always make him stand out in a crowd, and for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully, being best friends with Tyler, the school heartthrob, certainly smooths some of the more awkward social situations. Recently, though, something has been going on with Tyler. He’s been distant, alienating everyone around him. As Ben struggles with how to be a true friend, he meets Ilona Pierce, a foul-mouthed misfit who nevertheless helps him understand that all of us are freaks of nature, one way or another. With her help, Ben hopes to reach Tyler before their friendship falls completely apart. Kaufman takes a well-tread YA premise and breathes heart and grit into it. Her command of teenage dialogue is masterful, as is her ability to inject humor and gravitas into her scenes. She is also able to juggle multiple hard-hitting topics, such as sexual abuse, economic disparity, differences in social status, and the need for empathy, without being preachy or didactic. She even deftly avoids the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trap with Ilona by fleshing out her history and home life. Packed with depth, joy, and hope, Kaufman’s book is ultimately a story of how to be a friend—a topic that is always prescient for young adults.