Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin

Little, Brown and Company, 2009

Based on a true story, Hurwin reveals, in alternating chapters covering a period of years, how two teen-aged boys from different, but equally painful backgrounds come to meet in a violent attack in an alley in Southern California.

At ten, Doug’s older brother, Carl, is shot by a black man, fueling the already racist leanings of their parents who have already moved the family to a whiter community. To the fury of their parents, Carl refuses to press charges. Meanwhile, their sister has moved out to live with her boyfriend, with Carl following soon after. Doug begins, at a young age to drink and use drugs, becoming more distant from his inattentive parents, and more disaffected with life in general. It isn’t until he discovers the Punk rock scene that he begins to feel connected to anyone or anything. Unfortunately, it is the more violent and extreme aspects of the scene that draw him in, and combined with the racist attitudes he was brought up with, he becomes a skinhead.

Jason’s family is equally problematic, with an uncle arrested for child pornography, a crazy grandmother, and a runaway brother, all of whom no one mentions. When his parents get divorced, their mother suddenly becomes very pious and strict, leading one of Jason’s sisters to say it seems they’d traded their father for God. Meanwhile, at twelve, Jason is beginning to notice other boys at dance class. He decides that what his family needs is to start being more honest, and comes out at a family meeting. His father walks out, and his mother packs his backpack and sees him to the door, leaving Jason with no idea of what to do other than go to the Castro (San Francisco’s largely gay neighborhood). While he resists turning tricks for a long time, he can’t keep it up forever, and soon finds himself over his head using drugs and getting into dangerous situations with older men. Eventually he heads to L.A. with an acquaintance, only to be abandoned on a street corner. It isn’t long before he gets the lay of the land, makes a good friend, Coco, and begins to scrape by the same way he had been in San Francisco.

One night Doug and his friends, high and angry, decide to go out queer bashing, and find Jason and Coco at a restaurant they consider to be <em>their</em> territory. Jason and Coco run, but Jason ends up trapped in an alley where Doug and his friends beat him and leave him not knowing if he is even alive.

Twenty five years later, the two meet again in surprising circumstances that change both their lives.

Hurwin manages to bring both characters sympathetically to life in this thought-provoking and powerful novel. <em>Freaks and Revelations </em>would make an excellent discussion choice, useful in a variety of classroom settings, or as a book-group read.

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