In 1955, Boise grappled with the existence of the “Boys of Boise,” a surprisingly large population of gay men in a town known for its old-west, conservative atmosphere. Many lost their livelihoods and lives during the ensuing witch hunt. It’s not exactly a part of Idaho history that gets chatted about at the local watering holes or mentioned in the textbooks.
One needs only watch the news to realize that the world has changed and is changing still. Celebrities are increasingly open with their same-sex relationships. States are readdressing laws regarding gay rights. The U.S. military is edging cautiously toward elimination of DADT. Movies and television shows depict openly homosexual characters and relationships.
One area seems to lag behind, however, and that is literature – especially YA literature, which seems a great pity. Novels provide a relatively private and safe way for young people to learn more about issues concerning themselves or their friends. While there is no end of literary resources for teens curious about their vampire friends, however, it can be quite difficult to find teen-appropriate books that address sexual orientation. (Unless, of course, you buy into the notion that vampirism is a metaphor for homosexuality – but as an English teacher, I can attest that casual teenage readers aren’t exactly parsing the pages for allegory.)
Enter Perry Moore, executive producer of the Narnia films, with his debut novel. Hero is the story of Thom, a talented high school athlete wrestling with two secrets. The first is that he has superpowers – a problem because his father is passionately opposed to the antics of heroes who use powers instead of mortal strength and gadgetry. Basically, Thom’s dad would decidedly prefer Batman to Superman – not too surprising, since he’d been a Batman-esque superpowerless hero during his prime.
Thom’s second secret is that he’s gay.
Hero chronicles a portion of Thom’s life as he gets involuntarily outed, recruited by the local superhero league, learns to use his powers, falls in love, and tries to make his father proud of him. Moore weaves in subplot about Thom’s fellow superheroes and their own problems, skillfully crafting a message about discovering and respecting the person beyond what circumstances have made of them. Ultimately, Hero isn’t about sexuality – it’s about treating one another as human beings, and taking care of one another.
There’s some strong language, including some fairly explicit sexual remarks, as well as your good ole-fashioned comic book violence; I’d recommend this book for mature teens and adult readers. Fans of the superhero genre will enjoy it as well. It’s been one of the more enjoyable reads I’ve had in recent history, and I truly believe that anyone who loves a good story could spend several pleasant hours between the covers of this novel.