REVIEW: Husky (Justin Sayre)

51Z-7MEgAxL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Encapsulate the book in one sentence?

“Chubby proto-gay worries a lot.”

Intriguing, tell me more.

As the final days of the summer holiday tick away, Davis is worried about a lot of things: the clothes his loud Irish Nanny wants him to wear, his weight, his love of opera instead of what everyone else listens to, what his hard-working mother is up to with her handsome baker, and his lifelong friends who seem to be drifting away from him in the morass of insecurity and identity that is adolescence.

Personal Choice, Book-Pot, Re-read…?

Personal choice, recommended to me because I have a weakness for books with protagonists that are not twink-thin. (Which sounds like a niche genre, but becomes even more niche when you realise how shockingly thin on the ground these characters are.) It was going into the to be read pile where it might possibly have languished forever, but then I realised Sayre is the writer of my favourite episode of 2 Broke Girls ever, so it jumped up on top.

What genre would you say it is?

Textbook coming-of-age, and I mean that in the best way possible. This is a classic story of the insecurities and rites of passage that emerge on the edge of the murky waters of adolescence. Davis’ central worries are mainly navigating the complicated waters of his friendships, and his weight, but there’s a gay subtext-that-just-about-text which is pretty much there-if-you-want-it but not the cornerstone of the thing.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?

 

I read it in one go! It’s short, and light, and it hit every button for me it could, like Davis was an American version of me. And as I said above, Husky might not be reinventing the wheel in terms of this kind of story, but the story it does tell Sayre absolutely nails: every four or five pages I would come across an element so adeptly-handled that I would shiver with recognition. The odd family that sets you apart, torn between your interactions with them and with your friends; the concerns over being overlooked and then being noticed, as your friends grow and change away from you; the insecurities of weight and how it presses you into the sidelines of every high school story because you don’t dare to be anything else. So yes: I steamed straight through it, and adored every second.

What surprises did it hold – if any?

The strongest element–and the moment when the story first came together for me after the opening–was the introduction of Davis’ various friends: Ellen, the mean-mouthed free spirit; Sophie, the pretty, nice one, who is being pulled in a different direction by the rich, popular Allegra. Reduced down to a sentence, those sound like awful teen-movie archetypes, but in Husky they’re invested with real humanity, and it was the dynamics of the friendships, both those that Davis can see for himself, and those that he doesn’t see but the reader is left to notice, are perfectly drawn.

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?

One of the other gems I haven’t mentioned are the older characters: Nanny, and her trio of ‘Mrs’ (one of whom has lost a son; the scenes with her are lovely.) There’s a great scene towards the end in which, after an uncharacteristic burst of feeling that upsets his family and accidentally destroys a family keepsake that belonged to his departed grandfather, Davis and Nanny travel to Coney Island, and sit by the sea. She tells him that this was where she and his grandfather would come after a fight, and sit in silence until things had healed. The older characters are absolute gems in the story, but this scene was particularly poignant.

Give me a good quote:

  1. “I did get an iPod last year, which was great, but it was pretty old. I didn’t mind, honest. I didn’t even notice until Ellen said something. Mean. I was just happy to have music, all my music, in one place and ready for me all the time. Like now, I love music. And all alone in my headphones, there are these times when I think that I know exactly how I am in the world, how people see me, what I look like and how I act and who I am. I can see all so clearly, I don’t care about anyone’s adjectives. I can decide on my own.” (*I picked this as I read it, and only later realised it was also the cover excerpt. Goes to show…)
  2. “In the dark I want to lie there and stop thinking about everything and maybe listen to Aida. Maybe. Maybe just lie there. Sometimes with me, the quiet is just as big as an opera. Maybe bigger.”

What do you mean, bad reviews?

I love reading bad reviews of books I like. A few complaints from goodreads:
– “Nothing happens.” I hate it when books are just about emotional character arcs. Ugh! Bring me plot! LOTS OF PLOT!
– “Didn’t address fatphobia, just had negative internal monologue.” I assume this means that the book was lacking in an ‘but fat is okay!’ moment, but I think shoehorning in something like that would be disengenous. I’m a former fat kid (which is why I love books with characters that match that) and Davis rang very true. My entire teenage years was one long internal monologue about how I was the fat kid (and latterly, the queer kid.)
– “I expected a Tim Federle story.” KLAXON. Review the book you read, not the book you thought you were going to read. KLAXON.
– “I don’t buy Allegra’s sudden reversal in the last two pages.” Kinda with you on that one, actually.
– “Not enough queer!” Mumbleyeahokaymaybemumble. (But actually, no. I’m all for queer characters, but I liked Husky just as it was.)

Is it available today?

Out now. (Possibly only in the US? Amazon imported for me.)

Soundtrack of choice: 

Gotta be opera. Here, have ALL OF AIDA.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

– Hark! What is this monster?! Could this be a YA novel that uses mobile phones without sounding down-with-da-kidz patronising? It just might.
– From the first time he was mentioned, I was shipping Davis and Charlie. I predict five more years of neither quite getting around to mentioning the other is gay. When he finishes college, Davis will return to Brooklyn, and out for a reunion drink with Charlie they bond over what could have been if they’d only just said.

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