Guest Review: Geography Club
This review was written by Isaiah Vianese. Isaiah is a poet and writing instructor in New York. You can read his blog and some of his poetry here.
Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club is about community. Russel, the narrator and protagonist, and his friends want to find camaraderie with people who know they are gay. Maintaining such friendships is difficult, and therein lies the momentum of the novel.
Admirably, Russel and his friends, who meet under the code name “Geography Club,” recognize they are flawed and relationships do not always meet their expectations. (Perhaps more than anyone else, gay teenagers understand the tenuous strings that tie us to other people.) Russel desperately wants to be in love with Kevin, the closeted baseball star. Russel’s best friend, Min, only gets together with her girlfriend in an abandoned warehouse at night. Belinda, the Geography Club’s only straight member, has an alcoholic mother that she never talks about. These teenagers are plagued with secrets. Russel often calls himself a liar, and he makes astute assessments of other people’s deception. However, when they get together as their secret club, these characters shed their guises for one another.
Geography Club is about eight years old, and it is startling how fresh the book seems. Told from Russel’s perspective, one could assume this novel would date quickly. However, Hartinger keeps the narrative alive by sprinkling the text with Russel’s humor, insecurities, and strength. He also includes a mindful discussion of language—namely the use of the word “gay” as a synonym for “shitty”—that still pollutes both teenage and adult vernacular. Though a quick read, Geography Club is a weighty book. It is recommended for readers who want a story about friendship in the face of peer pressure.