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This little paperback arrived through the post yesterday with paw prints all over it. Thank you Nono.

Totally Joe is just a sweet little book. Howe pitches his narration somewhere between the unalloyed naivete of Alex Sanchez in So Hard to Say and the raucous, in-your-face buzz of Kirk Read's How I learned to Snap. I won't allow myself any more comparisons except to say that the spirit of David Levithan is hanging around too.

Joe (recently and sometimes JoDan) is 12 and is writing an alphabiography for English homework. He takes us one letter at a time through his life; his family; his friends; his first boyfriend.

The format allows Howe to ignore strict narrative demands and gives him room to let Joe speak in his own voice and to comment on his own text. What emerges is one of the funniest and most sympathetic books I've seen since Boy Meets Boy. Joe is just a bit of a flamer, but he's secure in his own person and finds any support he needs from his friends and family. As the book goes on, Joe becomes more comfortable and easy with his identity and he comes out to his immediate and then extended families.

Above all this book is funny. It's clearly aimed at early teens but I chortled out loud all the way through. There's no outstanding heroics; no gripping drama; no heart rending tragedy. But there's a very sweet and human story told in a novel and interesting format.

If you get the chance read it.

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  • 2 months later...

Yes, you made me buy it and read it and it's just as you say. Sweet and funny and a good read.


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Yes, I agree -- a terrific read. I wouldn't think there'd be a category for "12-year-old boys who might be gay," but this would qualify.

Note that Joe is not quite the flamer; there's another character in the story who is. I'm sure many of us have had experiences similar to the title character. I certainly picked up on some myself.

Very poignant, touching story, well-told.

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James Howe is cool. I haven't read this one, but Joe/JoDan is also a side character in another of Howe's books, The Misfits, which I definitely recommend.

Also, Howe was the editor of 13: Thirteen Stories About the Agony and Ecstasy of Being Thirteen, which is a collection of short stories (and one poem) by a bunch of big-name childrens'/young adult book authors (a couple of which involve characters questioning/discovering their sexuality).

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