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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Totally Joe, written by James Howe. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2007. $6.99 ages 10 and up

"Anyway, we have each other and we don't really care what other people say about us. We know that the Gang of Five totally rocks. And now, after running for student council a few weeks ago (and losing, but, oh, well) and actually having the nerve to get up in front of the entire school at the campaign assembly, maybe we're not the only ones who think so."

Addie from Addie on the Inside has a great friend in Joe. Reading this book is all the proof needed. I love Joe...he is funny, loyal, smart and gay. There is no misery or gloom about it. Joe is out and he's fine with that.

Joe is twelve and in grade seven. His English teacher Mr. Daly has charged his class with an interesting assignment called an 'alphabiography'...self-explanatory really and not so appreciated by the narrator as it is by the reader. In an opening letter, Joe explains that telling the truth about himself was an initial concern. Also the life lessons that are to end each chapter:

"Oh. My. God. That is so Oprah."

Finding something to talk about for every letter of the alphabet is a daunting task, but Joe explores it so thoughtfully that readers will feel empathy, admiration and a real connection to this young man. In an early chapter he talks about Boys:

"Well, I'm used to being called a girl, but, excuse me, is that supposed to be an insult? What's wrong with girls? Some of my best friends are girls! But I know what Kevin H. and all the other (um, no name-calling, so you'll have to use your imagination here) _________s mean when they say it. They mean I'm not a boy."

Well, he may not be a boy like them, but he is a boy. He goes on to discuss dating, family, kissing, and even xylophones and the ten things you need to know about them...very funny! Not to mention religion, surprises and Zachary. Have I got your attention?

Joe is refreshingly comfortable being himself. He loves fashion, cooking, and Cher. He wears an earring, paints his nails, and is understanding of Colin who cannot bring himself to admit to anyone else that he is gay.

Joe is so frank and likable. He seems little bothered by being called names, and recognizes that those other boys are just not so progressive in their thinking as he is.

Lucky Joe to have the understanding and accepting family he has, including Aunt Pam who gives him support and strength at every turn. He is also extremely lucky that Mr. Daly, his English teacher, offers a safety net for Joe to voice his opinions, feelings and insecurities. There is much for everyone to learn in reading this heartwarming and heartfelt book, a worthy companion to Addie's story.

The ending is hopeful, and perfect:

"LIFE LESSON: Alphabiographies should be full of italics, CAPITAL LETTERS, and exclamation points! (Just like life!) And they should never end with the words "The End." They should always end with:


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