Monday 27 May 2013

Book Review: Surprising Myself by Christopher Bram

Surprising Myself

by Christopher Bram
Gay Literature/Coming of age/Family drama
Open Road Media
4 Stars


Seventeen-year-old Joel can’t be gay if he’s straight

After four years of living with relatives in Switzerland, seventeen-year-old Joel Scherzenlieb finds himself in the United States for the summer, working at a Boy Scout camp. There, he meets nineteen-year-old Corey Cobbett, a fellow counselor who'sand the only person Joel wants to be friends with. Soon, Joel’s sarcastic, distant CIA father shows up and whisks him away to live with his mother, grandmother, and older sister on a farm in Virginia—he’s not going back to Switzerland after all. As his father pleads poverty and his dreams of going to college vanish, Joel faces his longest year yet. But everything changes when Corey returns to his life, bringing with him the discovery and excitement of reciprocal love.


I'm not sure what to make of this novel. On the one had it is an interesting read on coming out and coming to terms with your sexuality in the 1970s/1980s, but I didn't really get a sense of time at all. It could have been set in today's world and it wouldn't have lost anything.

The book is told from Joel's point of view and the first person point of view is not one of my favourites to read. I'm always wondering what the other characters felt and thought, and we only get Joel's opinions as to what they might be feeling.

It is an interesting read and I enjoyed Joel's growth from scared youth wondering if he was really gay, to his acceptance of himself and others later on. What I didn't like was the time jumps in some certains, such as "Three years later I went back to Switzerland." I wanted to know what happened in the three years in between. The relationship between Joel and Corey felt a bit glossed over, we're told they are in love etc., but only because Joel as the narrator told us so. They are in  a relationship, but it's not a romance, as we as readers don't get to see them on their journey as they fall in love, we come back to them in New York when they are already an established couple.

The writing is good, very solid and flows really well, some of it is quite poetic in places but a lot of the characters besdies Joel and Corey fell a bit flat for me, almost as if they were cariactures of themselves. Since we are only relying on Joel's narration, it might be the way he viewed them, so a lot of them don't get much depth.

I was expecting more of a romance between Joel and Corey and we didn't quite get it. I'm not sure I would class it as a romance, more of a gay drama, and a lot of the book focuses on Joel's sister and her boyfriend and, then husband, Bob Kearney. I wanted more about Joel and Corey, I wasn't all that interested in what happened with the rest of Joel's family.

I think my expectations of a romance were what made it that little bit disappointing for me, as it is a good book, but just not the one I was expecting, so a solid four from me.

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