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A Boy's Own Story (1982)

by Edmund White

Series: A Boy's Own Story (1)

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1,624229,141 (3.6)56
At home, in school, and on the streets, a homosexual teenager moves through comic sexual experiments, isolation, fear, and exciting expectations toward an escape from childhood and a firm sense of self.
  1. 00
    The Boys on the Rock by John Fox (Anonymous user)
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English (20)  Italian (2)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
I've had this book on my shelves since 1986, according to the note I wrote on the book's title page. That said, in (re)reading the book, nothing seemed familiar. NOTHING. Admittedly, I'm asking my brain to go back 35 years to a time when my life was particularly fraught. Reading it now, I can say that it is an important book, but not an easy one. My reading these days is primarily what my mother called "light and frivolous," and A Boy's Own Story is neither light, nor frivolous. White writes in sentences that would make a German scholar proud. I found myself getting bogged down in strings of words that went on and on without a period in sight. A six chapter, 217 page book should take me an afternoon to read. This book took me four days. But I did find meaning in it. Written as a semi-autobiographical novel, it follows the protagonist in a first-person narrative that covers his years from seven to sixteen. But it is not a linear narrative. Chapter one tells of a summer during his 15th year. In Chapter two, our narrator is now a year younger, and in Chapter three, even younger. Chapter six, the final and longest chapter, takes place at a prep school where our narrator, now 16, attends school, but mostly seems to fraternize with the headmaster and his wife and small son. In other words, the book is written as a series of episodes that the narrator remembers in seemingly random order. The overall message though is familiar. The narrator is aware of his attraction to other males, but is terrified of being a homosexual. He even acts on his natural impulses while seeking any way to see this as only a phase--a natural phase at that--through which all boys pass. I recommend the book--with the caveat that this is not an easy read. ( )
  mtbearded1 | Sep 29, 2021 |
"Like a blind man's hands exploring a face, the memory lingers over an identifying or beloved feature but dismisses the rest as just a curve, a bump, an expanse."

Originally published in 1982 'A Boy's Own Story' is the first of White’s trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels. Initially the book was banned which almost certainly added to its popularity it became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. .

Told from the perspective of an adolescent boy who represents the author growing up during 1950's America, the unnamed narrator struggles to embrace his own sexuality whilst also dealing with distant parents, a cruel sister and having few friends. The novel casts an eye on American gay life during that era, a time when many saw it as a sickness that could be cured by either doctors or priests, and is a coming of age story packed with yearning and shame.

The narrator longs to be loved by the men in his life (father, teachers or peers) but must also give the outward impression of being straight which becomes apparent very early on in the book. When at the age fifteen he is asked by Kevin, the son of his father's house-guests and himself only twelve, about his experiences with women, he pretends to have had female lovers before the two boys share the first of several sexual encounters with each other. This is an experience the narrator in particular has longed for but also shows a curiosity for pleasure and intimacy in young boys. A point underlined when the narrator is surprised that the physical act of love can mean giving as well as receiving pleasure.

No doubt the very age of these two boys became, along with the narrators parting shot, one of the main reasons why the book was banned. It was the fact that the book had once been banned and I wanted to see what all the fuss was all about was one of my motivations for picking up this book along with the fact that it is on the 1001 list. I have little interest in the homosexual nature of the novel however, I still feel that this story is one that is worth reading. The prose is quite wonderful, sometimes sad sometimes funny. It fully captures a lonely young boy with a vivid imagination struggling on many fronts and never slips out of that adolescent voice.

So why didn't I enjoy it more? As the author himself admits in the afterword, homosexuality is no longer a taboo subject in Western literature, film and television, bookshops that once catered solely for this sort of material have been put out of business by mainstream outlets. Therefore, as stories like this have become more acceptable I feel that they now lack the shock value that they once enjoyed. I'm not saying that this isn't a good thing but it does mean that I've read other books of a similar vein and just did't really grab me as it might once have done. The rather jumbled timeline also meant I found it unbalanced with many of the more interesting points at the beginning of the book and some of the events totally unbelievable.

I have yet to read the following two novels but no doubt will at some point. However, I believe that 'A Boy’s Own Story' can read as a stand-alone novel and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys well written 'coming of age' stories whatever their sexual orientation. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jan 14, 2021 |
Something about the final pages of the book pushed this one over from a 4.5 to a full-blown 5. Really great read. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Jul 20, 2020 |
Loved it. Beautiful prose, a bit disjointed, but the ending really brought it together. ( )
  Loryndalar | Mar 19, 2020 |
Well...can't say this was a great book, and honestly, it was rather difficult to get through. That being said, I can definitely see how this book broke from the mold in its time. However, I think there are far better books out there about coming of age than this. Still I will give his next few books a go to see if things improve. ( )
  RoxieT | Nov 9, 2019 |
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To Christopher Cox
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We're going for a midnight boat ride. It's cold, clear summer night and four of us- the two boys, my dad and I- are descending the stairs that zigzag down the hill from the house to the dock.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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At home, in school, and on the streets, a homosexual teenager moves through comic sexual experiments, isolation, fear, and exciting expectations toward an escape from childhood and a firm sense of self.

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Book description
Originally published in 1982 as the first of Edmund White's trilogy of autobiographical novels, A Boy's Own Story became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. The book's unnamed narrator, growing up during the 1950s, is beset by aloof parents, a cruel sister, and relentless mocking from his peers, compelling him to seek out works of art and literature as solace-and to uncover new relationships in the struggle to embrace his own sexuality. Lyrical and poignant, with powerful evocations of shame and yearning, this is an American literary treasure.
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