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Review: Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates


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Review by Colin Kelly

Bart Yates' Leave Myself Behind is at the top of my personal Favorite Books list. It's a gay coming-out and coming-of-age novel, and much, much more.

Noah York is the 17 year-old protagonist. He and his mother have just moved from Chicago to a small college town in New Hampshire. It's late summer of the year Noah will be a high school senior. Noah's mother, Virginia York, is a poet of some renown, and she's taken a teaching post at Cassidy College. She's bought an old Victorian house that's in desperate need of a major remodel, and decides that she and Noah can do the work themselves.

Noah is a profane, foul-mouthed, blunt, sarcastic, impudent, critical, self-centered, funny, joke-cracking, wise and wiseass closeted gay teen. His relationship with his mother is shaped by her personality. Noah describes her this way:

"Living with Virginia York is a special case. Living with Virginia is like living with a myth. She's only half-human; the rest is equal parts wolverine, hyena, goddess and rutting goat.

"In other words, she's a poet."

After reading those lines, I was totally hooked. Hooked so thoroughly that I've read this novel three more times since I first read it in March, and as a result of writing this review, I've decided to read it a fifth time.

Noah and Virginia don't have a normal teen-mother relationship. It has the appearance of normality, but is actually on the cusp of being dysfunctional. Part of this dysfunctionality is Noah being uprooted as he's about to start his senior year in high school. Part is Noah is still grieving over the recent death of his father. Part is when a mystery intervenes into Noah's and Virginia's lives, when Noah finds a fragment of a poem in a Mason jar hidden in a wall of the house. All semblance of normality is destroyed as Virginia descends into madness as more secrets hidden in the house are revealed. These circumstances are out of Noah's control, and we ache with him as he tries to shape a normal life from the growing dysfunction that threatens to overwhelm him.

Then there's J.D., Noah's 16 year-old neighbor. Noah falls for J.D., who has all the appearances of being straight, with a girlfriend in the local high school's A-list group. We discover that J.D.'s family is more dysfunctional than Noah's. His father is an alcoholic, and his mother seems to hate J.D., something fairly recent that J.D. can't understand. The growing relationship between Noah and J.D. has all of the clumsiness and confusion of real-life teens exploring their sexuality.

And poetry. There are poems sprinkled throughout the story. They help us understand Virginia, and are an integral part of several of the mysteries the novel explores.

Noah is funny. His dialog is funny. His narration is funny. This is a dangerous novel to read on public transit! If you're like me, you'll bust out laughing time after time while reading this novel because you can't not do so. Your fellow passengers will look at you like you're crazy. Ignore them. Who cares what they think? But you have been warned!

Leave Myself Behind is much more than a coming-out story and a love story. It?s believable. It's funny, with some of the best laugh-out-loud lines I've ever read anywhere. It's a series of mysteries, with so many twists and turns that I didn't want to put it down. Above all, it's a story about relationships between teens and their parents and each other.

Five stars.

Colin Kelly

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  • 2 months later...

I love Leave Myself Behind. After the first time I read it, I wrote to Bart Yates to tell him how much I like his novel, and asked where he got the title. It's from a line in one of the poems in the story. I was embarrassed; I should have discovered that, but I'm not into poetry so I kind of just glanced at each of the poems without actually reading them. So, duly chagrined, the next time I read it I actually read each of the poems. I was amazed. they really help the plot line of the story. :icon13:

......But don't you end up just loving him to death?

I want to actually meet Noah and be his friend. I wish I had a friend, just a friend, not a BF, exactly like Noah. I think there's a little bit of Noah in me, but just a little bit.

A warning, sort of. Since I loved LMB so much, I bought Bart Yate's other novel The Brothers Bishop. It creeped me out, and I didn't like it. It's as dark as LMB is bright. If you like dark novels with bad people doing bad things to each other, then you might enjoy reading TBB. :w00t:

Colin :w00t:

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A warning, sort of. Since I loved LMB so much, I bought Bart Yate's other novel The Brothers Bishop. It creeped me out, and I didn't like it. It's as dark as LMB is bright. If you like dark novels with bad people doing bad things to each other, then you might enjoy reading TBB.

While I agree to a point that The Brothers Bishop is a downer of a novel, it's very well-written. I think its biggest flaw is that it's one of these stories where, if the characters were just flat-out honest with each other for five minutes, most of the plot complications could have been avoided.

It's a tragic story, though I think the confused teenager in the story was very well-written. And Yates is a very good writer.

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  • 1 year later...
Guest Brandon T.

I was somewhat disappointed by it, actually. It was well-written and had interesting characters, but I felt on the whole the novel didn't live up to the hype. I searched for a long time for reviews of this book before buying it because I didn't want to go there and then get a book that turned out to be bleck, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that NO ONE had really anything terrible to say about it. Quite the opposite, everyone was saying how good and how refreshing it was, but after buying it and reading it in a couple of hours, I set it down and thought long and hard about it.

And I found that the novel had a lot of growing to do. The whole thing felt a little underdeveloped to me and the component I found odd was Noah's approach to his homosexuality. That night after dinner at JD's when he's lying in bed and masturbates. Not that I have an issue with masturbation, but that internal narration about being gay and his attitude toward it felt a little disingenuous to me. It felt like yet another misplaced stab at what a person dealing with their possibility homosexuality might think, and to be honest, it fell a little flat in my opinion. It lacked vehemence and the believability that Yates was going for in that scene. So on the whole, that revelation was pitiful and lacking and rather vacuous. It wasn't the poignant moment downstairs when JD and Noah are covered in dust and want to say so much, but don't. Then they end up having sex? Which I also found a little... just. I don't know. In places, I felt that this novel was ripped right off of Nifty or AD. It's not that it's bad, it's just that I didn't think it was this new, bold frontier in gay literature that the reviewers were making it into. There are better stories here on AD and on Nifty than the one in Leave Myself Behind.

There was just something untapped and unpolished about this novel in my opinion that left me wondering if he could go back and rewrite this, what he would further develop or change. My favorite character in this was JD actually. Up until they he became Noah's lover. Because prior to that, there was something about him. Some quality that drew you and held you. Something that made him irresistable. But the more Yates dove into him, the more I felt he ruined the character. I felt that by inundating him into Noah's world, Yates stripped JD of whatever part of himself gave him that special, stand-out quality. To make him fit more neatly into the story. Not into Noah's life because JD brings a lot trouble with him, but that in itself is making JD fit neatly into place in the story which I think diminished JD's credibility. By assigning to him some purpose, Yates took from JD his identity and made him into Noah's secondary.

Noah, I felt, was also mishandled and sloppily--in places--splashed over the page. And then there's the girl. JD's girlfriend's name. I don't know. The whole outing scenario felt disingeous to me too. The whole thing toward the end was really bad. Not good. The start was great, I liked it a great deal. So, I think on the whole, it was a good novel. Not great. Certainly not as great as the reviews I read on the internet lead me to believe. It was cursory and rushed at the end. But it wasn't terrible.

But really, I just felt neutral and unemotional about it in the end. It didn't grab me. I found myself reading just because I didn't have anything else to do that afternoon, not to discover hidden secrets and the like. Good use of time, I think. Good book to read. Not much else there though. Other than just well-written, good read.

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I agree it's not a very deep book, and the plot (such as it is) is fairly simplistic. But I think the relationship between the two boys was handled fairly realistically, though I concede that the friend was more interesting as a cypher than what you eventually find out about him.

I think the mystery of the pieces they keep finding in the wall feels a little thin, and it's really just a mechanism to keep us guessing. Yates' other book, The Brothers Bishop, is a lot more disturbing. Again, there's not so much a plot here as a character study -- very much a sort of gay "Long Day's Journey Into Night," where several characters are guarding various secrets that eventually come out, with tragic results. Know going into it that this is going to be a major downer.

I'm on record here on AD that it's rare that I can find a really tragic book that I can enjoy reading, unless the author finds a way to add a note of redemption or poignancy at the end to bring it full circle. With both of my novels here, I slid away from a traditional happy ending and tried at least for some realism, and at least some mixed emotions: "lessons learned, sadder but wiser, life goes on." Yates goes in a fairly grim direction with Brothers Bishop, and I don't think it's a satisfying read, despite the prurient interest (teacher's older brother has sex with a teenage student, along with seducing almost everybody else in the house).

Leave Myself Behind at least has some moments, and there's some good back-and-forth character development between the kid and the slightly-crazy mother. Not classic literature, but not a bad read.

You want classic literature, read Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. This is the best book nobody knows of which I'm aware. Why this hasn't been done as a film yet, I'll never understand. I'll personally refund your money if you hate this book.

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