This Boy, by best-selling New York Times author Lauren Myracle, is set to be released by Walker Books US, a division of Candlewick Press, on April 14th. And I suggest you get a copy.
This Boy brings us along on through the sometimes goofy, sometimes anxious high-school years of Paul Walden, your average teenage suburban-America boy. The back cover of Myracle’s new release uses two words not often seen in the same sentence: ordinary and unforgettable.
And yet, Myracle’s words, characters, and plot, which is sensitive to our contemporary times, makes the ordinary unforgettable.
We meet Paul and his soon-to-be best friend, Roby, and the girl of both their dreams, Natalia, as they all start their freshman year of high school at age 14. An excellent example of deep first-person POV, Paul shares with us his ‘boy-ness’ as he grows, including his self-proclaimed obsession with sex and sexuality.
Social awkwardness, the faithful friend, the first girlfriend, the single mom, Paul takes us through each of these relationships as they develop, and we experience what really matters. Until, Paul turns to drugs. His fall, his fight, his struggle to return to his ordinary, and the support he gets makes his story unforgettable.
Is there a flaw? At one point, almost halfway through the story, I wondered when the point of no return, the external crisis, the dark moment would be revealed. It happens late. While I was engaged in the characters and enjoying their story, I found myself wondering where Myracle was leading me. But once it occurs, all is forgiven, because we need those earlier chapters and experiences with Paul, Roby, and Natalia in their ordinary lives to feel what they feel – when the unforgettable happens.
And there is Myracle’s superpower. She allows us to feel the ordinary being ripped away. If there is one thing I take away from Myracle’s This Boy, it’s that there are no ordinary people. We are all extraordinary and unforgettable to those who truly know our story.
In addition to having had the privilege of reviewing This Boy,
Ms. Myracle graciously agreed to an interview for this Writers’ Rumpus blog. Read on…
Marti Johnson: First off, congratulations Lauren. I believe you have over thirty books for young people to your credit. That is amazing, and I am honored to review an advance copy of This Boy, a YA, to be released in just a couple of weeks. From your experience, tell us what makes a successful book launch, and will the launch of This Boy be any different for you?
Lauren Myracle: Thanks! Although I’m laughing in a gallows humor sort of way, as, well, I think a successful book launch certainly benefits from being able to go on tour, meet readers, talk to librarians, all of that great social stuff none of us can do right now! So, will the launch of This Boy be different? Yup! That said, I can think of few better ways of coping with social distancing than by hunkering down with a stack of good books. I hope that This Boy will allow readers to escape “lockdown,” even if it’s vicariously!
MJ: Point taken. Lauren, most of your writing has been about teen girls and their world. You’ve taken on a new audience with This Boy, was there a contributing factor or were you merely looking for a challenge?
LM: When I began my writing career, I wrote about girls and the world of girls because that was the life I knew. I kept writing about girls because girls are awesome. Now, twenty years later, the world I live in has changed dramatically, thanks to my two sons. Turns out—and I say this only somewhat facetiously—that boys are awesome, too. (I used to be afraid of them! They used to seem so very foreign to me!) I didn’t tackle writing This Boy from a boy’s perspective for the challenge of it so much as I took it on as a labor of love. I wanted to honor, to the best of my abilities, the richness of a young man’s interior life. I wanted to share with the world my deepened understanding that teenage boys can of course be sweet, sensitive and vulnerable. They can also be self-involved jerks! But guess what? That’s true of everyone, male or female. The longer I live, and the more I experience, the more convinced I become that we humans are all more alike than different.
MJ: Having both a son and daughter, I couldn’t agree with you more about the sweetness and sensitivity, not about being jerks. (Wink, wink -Just in case they read this.) This Boy is set in Brevard, North Carolina. I believe there is a personal connection. Can you tell us about this?
LM: I love Brevard soooooo much! My parents got divorced when I was three, and from that point on, my childhood was split between Atlanta (where my mom lived and continues to live) and Brevard (where my dad lived and continues to live). I think of Atlanta as my “city mouse” life and Brevard as my “country mouse” life, because Brevard is a charming small town in the Smoky Mountains. Camping, hiking, tubing down rivers and sliding down waterfalls—that’s what we did in Brevard. Something about that life, slower-paced and more steeped in nature, seemed like a good fit for Paul, the main character in the novel. Maybe it helped me paint Paul as an “everyboy”? The things that happen to Paul aren’t just things that happen to kids who grow up in the hustle and bustle of cities. I wanted to make Paul relatable, and I hope that all teens can connect with him in one way or another.
MJ: I think you’ve succeeded in making Paul totally relatable to every “body” not just “everyboy.” In your novel Shine, a boy was beaten for being openly gay. That was based, if I’m not mistaken, on a real-life occurrence that motivated you to write his story. Not wanting to reveal “the darkest moment,” was there a true-life catalyst behind This Boy, or how did Paul and Roby’s story come to you?
LM: Aye-yai-yai. I respect your desire to avoid spoilers! Thank you! In that vein, I’ll just say that although This Boy is entirely fictionalized, it is also entirely true. Life throws curveballs at us, and we either throw in the towel or we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep moving forward. Maybe, in writing This Boy, I was reminding myself of that: that my job, as a parent and as a human being, is to do my best to move through life with courage and compassion, even when times are hard. Because at one point or another, times will definitely be hard.
MJ: As are the unprecedented times we now face. Lauren, to be candid, there has been significant push-back against your frank and open approach to topics of teenage sexuality in your earlier novels. You’re quoted as saying, “being banned is kinda cool.” How does that reputation impact your writing?
LM: Oh, golly. Is it possible to be naïve and to be aware of being naïve at the same time? I think, initially, I wrote about whatever topics interested me because, well, they interested me! And I suspected that if “young me” would want to read about them, then current teens would, too. So I never censored myself, never thought, “Oh, if I write about this, my books might put certain people off.” It was my extreme good fortune that my first book, Kissing Kate, landed with editor extraordinaire, Susan Van Metre. Susan is still my editor, and she has never put restrictions, implied or otherwise, on what she was comfortable working with me on. These days, I’m more aware of the fact that yes, I’ll get push back if I write about topics that make certain adults uncomfortable, but I’m not willing to let fear of disapproval keep me from writing about topics that are relevant to teen readers. When it comes down to it, I’m more invested in connecting with my readers than in playing it safe in order to minimize the risk of offending someone. Not that I want to offend anyone, ever! But if it happens, it happens. As long as I write my characters’ truths to the best of my ability, I’m able to sleep at night.
MJ: I read an interview with Abigail Pest on Daily Beast, where you stated, “…there’s that old double standard. When guys talk about sex, eyebrows don’t get raised. It’s different for girls.” Are the parents of boys more tolerant? Or do you expect the same kind of push-back from the critics with This Boy?
LM: I think, perhaps, this raises two different questions. Are parents more tolerant of their teen boys’ sexuality? I think so, yes. I think many parents of teens expect boys to be more sexual than girls, and I think our culture continues to assign more blame and shame to girls who are sexual than to guys who are sexual. But will parents of boys who potentially read This Boy be comfortable seeing male sexuality front and center on the page? I doubt it. But humans are sexual creatures! Teenage boys, most of them, are sexual creatures! If I were to write an “up close and personal” first person narrative from a teenage boy’s perspective and not talk about sex, I’d be lying by omission. I don’t see much value in writing unrealistic “realistic fiction!”
MJ: Your main character, Paul Walden, is so genuine readers will appreciate his openness from the first page. He shares noble confidences like Granddad’s advice, “Walk into a room like you own it, and everyone will assume you do.” (page 13) As well as messages like, “Mom says it all comes down to respect,” (page 20) when talking about sexual relationships. On the other hand, Paul states he thinks about sex all the time and that the dudes he knows masturbate daily. (page 147) Which is, based on a quick survey, an exaggeration some parents wouldn’t want their sons latching onto. As history has shown us, bold assertions like this might overshadow the otherwise positive messages of your story. How do you strike a balance?
LM: Oh man. I don’t know how to answer this one, except to say that there must be something in the water of the town I’m raising my sons in! I do not think it’s an exaggeration to say that most teenage boys masturbate daily. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong—but even so, is it really such an offensive possibility to consider? I guess it is, in the minds of some! As for me, I’ve always told my sons (and my daughter) that God made our bodies to be enjoyed. I tell them that masturbation is a private matter, and that if they masturbate, they should do so only in a private space, i.e. their bedroom. But, with that groundwork laid down, I say, “Go for it! Enjoy!” I want my kids to grow up feeling confident in themselves, body and soul. I’d love that for my readers as well.
MJ: I certainly accept this reality exists for some, maybe even most, just not ALL. Regardless, I respect your honest and positive point of view. Just as I thoroughly appreciate the story’s deep POV and getting to know Paul, Roby, and Natalia. Their journey is impactful and full of many strong, important messages I hope your readers take to heart. What are we looking forward to seeing from you next?
LM: Aw, thank you! That is so nice to hear, and I appreciate your taking the time to chat! I really really hope readers fall in love with Paul and his story, so that’s what mainly on my mind right now. But next up is a story about—oh, let’s just say the hidden lives of sixth graders and the divide between kids and adults. It’s a psychological thriller for middle graders!
MJ: Whoa! Sounds daunting. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thank you, Lauren, for your time and openness. It has been my pleasure to commune with you. I wish you continued success. And would suggest everyone get themselves a copy of This Boy, due out April 14th – it makes the ordinary unforgettable.
By Lauren Myracle
Pub Date: April 14, 2020