This is a book review of "No Going Back," a book by Jonathan Langford that was mentioned a few weeks back in Justin's post about gay themed movies and books. I hadn't heard of this one so I thought I would give it a try. These opinions are strictly my own. I will try to keep it short so as to not lose you before it's even started. (Warnings: there may be spoilers, but it's still a really good read...also it has the word faggot a lot, but I just think of this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M9TzdnSpLo)
This book is about a gay teenage Mormon growing up in western Oregon in 2003. First of all, I wish I had heard about this book sooner. Just it seems to me that now that I'm okay with myself I finally find all the things I was looking for before to help me be okay with myself.
The protagonist is a fifteen-year-old boy named Paul, and the plot revolves around the happenings as a result of his coming out. The book just starts right out with Paul coming out to his best friend Chad. It's not about him figuring out he's gay and going through that, but dealing with people's reactions and figuring out what he really wants. (For me, this has been the longer process of the two.) At first I was slightly disappointed, especially after Chad's reaction is basically calling Paul a faggot and storming out. But then the focus switches to Chad's thoughts and you see how he struggles with this new information and the fact that he still cares for his best friend and what that means for him.
The book is written in third person omniscient. Langford writes from the point of view of every major character (and some minor ones) and he does a really good job at approaching this issue from all sides. It's not just a book about a gay boy, but also the people in his life. I think that not only makes it easier for more people to relate to this book, because you'll at least fit in one of the character's shoes, but also you see how different people deal with the same issue. I think many times we forget that other people see the same things differently (or as my mom always says, there's two sides to every story).
Paul comes out to his best friend, his mom, and his bishop. I thought these were the most important and handled very well:
- I was a bit scared at how he would write the bishop's reaction, but it was what it should be. As long as Paul didn't do anything against the standards of the church he was completely worthy. I know that some bishops don't react like this because they think the act of identifying as gay is wrong, and this just pushes the person farther away from the church.
- His mom goes looking for information that's out there, but is only able to find politically charged support groups. She's not interested in politics or gay rights, only in finding a way to help her son and make his life as easy as possible, because she loves him.
- Chad has his ups and down in the book, finding what this means for him and what it means for his relationship with Paul and also dealing with other people's reactions, including his own parents (because they think he might catch "the gay"). In the end he sticks next to his friend and stands up for him, even when others start saying that he's gay too and call him the same horrible names. This is the kind of friend I want next to me, and what I try to be.
To add an even deeper level, Langford places it in a time when a gay marriage law is trying to pass and shows just how quickly people become political and forget the whole point is to love one another. I guess it's just the way that I think, but I was very surprised at how many of the characters were so quick to call faggot (his church youth group especially) and ostracize him, and associate his being gay to his being a bad person. I never came out very openly before college so I'm not sure if it's just teenagers can be cruel, or if I've just been very lucky to find people who aren't so stupid. It also made me appreciate my own parents' reaction a lot more.
I really enjoyed this book, but the ending got to me a little. The message I walked away with is that it would be better to just ignore this part of you and go on living in the church in silence. This may not be the message Jonathan Langford was attempting to send, who knows. I personally just think that I couldn't do that. For me I needed to accept my being lesbian as much as I needed my being Mormon. I needed to be able to love that part of me before I could accept any of me. Had I read this a few years back I'm not sure I would have been brave enough to really search for that love for myself. I would have been more scared and more in the closet. Maybe that's why I haven't found it before now. But the truth is, Langford's story is a reality for some people. Over all I recommend reading it for yourselves, and especially approaching it with a truly open mind.