GRAPHIC NOVELS

Flamer

Holt. Sept. 2020. 368p. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781627796415; pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781250756145.
COPY ISBN
Gr 8 Up–As Boy Scout camp draws to a close and high school looms, 14-year-old Aiden Navarro, who is biracial (white and Filipino), is on high alert. Feeling self-conscious about his weight, dealing with racism from other campers, and wondering about his sexuality, he often takes preemptive action to appear unimpeachably heterosexual and unconvincingly attempts to imitate the homophobic, macho behavior of other campers—though his thoughtfulness usually wins out. Aiden’s precarious balancing of identities pushed upon him and those he tries to hide starts to crumble when he begins to fantasize romantically about his tentmate Elias, a steadfast summer friend who has been unfazed by other campers’ gossip about Aiden being gay. As Aiden heads into the last days of camp, his desire, self-loathing, and uncertainty come to a boiling point. Curato’s incredible art conveys Aiden’s point of view, his thoughts, and his reimaginings of his physical form with compelling beauty and empathy. The drawing style feels specific to a teen’s world, spare yet filled with distinct characters and an idyllic camp setting. Most images are in shades of black and gray, which makes the appearance of fire in Aiden’s dreams and fantasies—in hues of red, yellow, and orange, signifying his passion, rage, desire, and shame—even more poignant as more light is shed on his true self.
VERDICT Curato has created a beautiful story of a teen who must decide if he will force himself into the mold of what he thinks a “normal” boy is, or if he can allow himself to live life on his own terms. An essential book that shows readers that they are never alone in their struggles.

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