Book 579: Geography Club (Russel Middlebrook #1) – Brent Hartinger

This book is definitely a bit dated, but still worth the read. Basically if this book and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli were merged it’d be perfect. And really, to be fair, Simon is an updated version of this down to the meeting online and ultimately meeting in person.

I think this book hit me a little stronger than Simon because it was written back when I was just finishing high school and I could relate to so much of it more so than the tech heavy (hello school Tumblr) “reboot” of the story. I mean chatrooms? YES! I remember going to the public library with my best friend after school so we could use the computers to chat with strangers online. It was crazy.

Think about it, kids growing up today will just always be connected. My generation (the elder millennials if you most) has such a weird place in the early technology stage of dial-up internet and big clunky home computers right through to the phones we carry around in our pockets today that are a million times faster and have a million times more memory! [No clue if that’s true but it’s what it feels like. Getting pictures to load on my home computers growing up was a GLACIAL PROCESS.]

I don’t want this to be a side-by-side comparison, but of course it’s going to end up being one. Where I felt Hartinger excelled over Albertalli was in the first person experience. Albertalli’s was genius, but Hartinger’s was perfection. Yes, this includes the sexism; yes, this includes the internalized homophobia; yes, this includes the classism and hints of racism. Geography Club takes place in the real world. It takes place away from parents, where you hide things. There isn’t this picture perfect family with the supportive parents and siblings, and the cookie cutter perfect high school. There is isolation, confusion, self-imposed mental exile.

“The second Min and I turned the corner and saw the faces of the others, I knew the answer. I felt that little swell of excitement like when you know you’re about to set the top score on a well-used video game. Being one of the Nerdy Intellectuals I mentioned earlier, I generally like libraries anyway—I love the clean, heady musk of ink and paper and carpet glue. But I’d never been exhilarated in a library before.” (58)

Finding yourself in high school is a CONSTANT evolving effort. Sure you find a group but think about all the people who came in and out of it. Think of the groups you came in and out of. That’s where I felt Hartinger captured my high school experience at least a little better than Albertalli. Maybe things have changed in the decade+ since I left HS.

“Over the past few weeks, I’d been exploring the Land of the Popular, and the Landscape of Love, but they weren’t the only two placed I’d visited. I’d covered the whole terrain of a typical high school. I’d gone from the Borderlands of Respectability, to the Land of the Popular, and now to Outcast Island, also known as Brian’s lunch table. I’d made the complete circuit. But Outcast Island was the end of the line. In the world of high school, you could go from Respectable to Popular, or from Popular to Respectable, but you couldn’t go anywhere from Outcast. Once you were there, you were stuck. That was the whole point of being exiled from someplace: you couldn’t ever go back. Brian Bund’s lunch table was the one place I hadn’t ever expected to visit, but I knew I had better get used to it. It was my new homeland, and I was here to stay.” (195-196)

Every teen movie and book has this sort of description, but this one just hit it on the head for me. And I liked that Russel had to make a decision about how he was going to interact with people for his remaining high school years. I liked that it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t the happily ever after you’d expect, but it still worked.

Recommendation: Sure it’s a bit outdated, but if you read it in the historical context (i.e. early 2000s), the book is pretty groundbreaking for young adult literature. Not to mention that I felt it brought to light a lot of things (straight-washing in particular) that I felt Simon sort of glossed over. I fully plan to read the rest of the series (The Order of the Poison Oak, Double Feature, The Elephant of Surprise and Two Thousand Pounds Per Square Inch).

Opening Line: “I was deep behind enemy lines, in the very heart of the opposing camp.”

Closing Line: “For the first time in my life, for the time being at least, I’d already said everything I had to say.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

Additional quotes from Geography Club
“As for me, I didn’t want to see either the romantic comedy or the erotic thriller. I wanted to see the animated Disney musical, which I guess just proved that I really was the gay boy that I’d been thinking all along that I was. But once again, I knew enough to keep my opinion to myself, so we snuck into the erotic thriller just like Kimberly wanted.” (83)

“I turned to face him, to tell him I was tired not just of lies, but loneliness. Meeting the other members of the Geography Club, being open with hem, had been important, but it had only been the preparation before the start of my journey. I’d learned about the places I wanted to go, I’d talked about them with my friends, but I hadn’t actually set foot outside my door. The terrain of my own heart, the landscape of love, was still entirely unexplored. But people are right when they say the hardest step of every journey is the first, and I was scared. (Okay, I was terrified.)” (124)

“When I did pull away, he started to shake and sob. But I kept pulling, and it felt like an amoeba separating—like half of my body was being torn away from me. But at the same time, it felt kind of good, like when you cut your fingernails too short, but you know they’ll eventually grow back, cleaner and stronger than before.” (223)


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