“Yes, because I have a raging boner for all the guys in the school. Soon it will explode and shower them all and they will catch The Gay and life will never be the same.”
In a word: Maybe read the thing? I started out liking this book, but I was completely ready to be done with it by the time I got to the end. A lot of other people seem to like it so I’m assuming it’s just a personal problem I have with it. This is a book about teenager Micah Johnson and his ongoing struggle to not be an arsehole. I think. The reason I started off really enjoying this was that I found Micah pretty funny. He’s really sarcastic and snarky and a bit of a dick, but I found him a likeable enough character. I liked Micah, which was probably part of the problem of why I didn’t end up liking the book. Judging by the behaviour of the other characters, I don’t think I was supposed to like Micah as much as I did. Micah first appeared in a previous book in a different series by the same author (Tigers and Devils) and a lot of things happened in that book that are only vaguely summarized in this one, so anyone who hasn’t read the previous book is missing a large chunk of the backstory. As it is, Micah comes off with an attitude problem, but I didn’t feel it was so bad that it warranted the other characters to get on his case every time he opened his mouth (there were times where he crossed a line, but most of his behaviour is average teenage dickishness). This book also has no real plot; though I suppose Micah’s reformation is supposed to be the main one, though I never got into it. There are few other subplots about starting a GSA, Micah’s school environment, a vague romance, and his future career in the AFL. I usually enjoy reading slice of life stories, but not really ones that only seemed to shit on the main character for reasons not adequately portrayed.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains homophobia and homophobic language.
The Boy: The main focus of the story is Micah Johnson and his struggles to be a better person. Micah is an 18-year-old gay high school senior who lives in Australia and is working on being drafted in the AFL. He’s also an arsehole, but he’s working on it. In a different book in a completely different series (that I didn’t read) he went through a lot of shit that, I’m assuming, turned his life a bit upside down (he was forcibly outed and that caused a lot of issues, and I have no idea what he was like before then). We learn very little about it other than brief mentions of him being isolated at school (which is still currently happening), bad luck with boyfriends, running away from home, and falsely accusing a man of sexual assault. I think the idea that we, the readers, are supposed to have is that Micah went a bit off the rails and he’s just now trying to get his life back on track. That wasn’t the impression I got at all. I actually liked Micah. I found his sarcastic and snarky comments amusing, and I also really liked the relationship he had with his little brother. At times he can go overboard with his comments, and he does a few things in the book that cross over the line of ‘not good’, and he has a bit of a temper and an attitude problem, but overall I found him enjoyable enough. The thing is that I’m not sure I was supposed to like Micah as much as I did, if the reactions of the other characters is anything to go by. I get that I’m missing a large chunk of the backstory and that Micah has most likely said and done things that have driven characters away time and again, but this book doesn’t do a really good job of communicating that. Not in a way that made it clear to me what was going on. The other characters are always quick to call Micah out on the things he says, even if those things are fairly harmless and probably said for laughs. Another thing that’s said often about Micah is that he’s constantly trying to push people away, he has a major attitude problem, and he’s always fucking things up. I will agree somewhat with the attitude thing, but the impression I got was that Micah doesn’t really have more or less of an attitude than the average teenage character would have. Whatever it was he got up to in any previous books, he doesn’t do it much in this one. I also don’t agree that he purposely pushes people away, not at this point at least. I will agree that he can be a bit prickly and defensive, but that’s mostly around strangers and I think he does come by it honestly, since he’s exposed to homophobic-fueled isolation and bullying nearly everywhere he goes. At this point I think it’s probably in his best interest to be careful around strangers. Another big part of Micah’s character is that he’s constantly worried about being a fuckup, and the other characters support this. Which got really frustrating because the things that Micah was ‘fucking up’ were not nearly as bad everyone was making it out to be, at least I didn’t think so. I could really go on about this forever, but I started out this book amused at Micah’s attempts to become a better person and then I had to read about him getting beat down by everyone around him over minor lapses considering to the point where he was getting pretty miserable. I think what happened here is that Micah was supposed to be portrayed in a certain way but, either because I didn’t read the other book or I didn’t understand or it wasn’t written right, I didn’t get the ‘correct’ impression. Micah can absolutely be an arsehole a lot of the time, but not, I feel, enough of one to warrant the reactions he kept getting from people.
The Friends: At the start of the book Micah has two friends. Emma is a girl he apparently met in the previous book. It doesn’t say how they met, but it does say that Micah did some pretty shitty stuff to her and he’s apparently only now getting confirmation that they are actually friends. I liked Emma in the beginning, I thought she was pretty funny. But she started grating on my nerves a bit over time. Mostly for the way she kept getting on Micah’s case for minor infractions and slip ups (maybe I would’ve had a different opinion had I read the other book). She’s a bit like Micah in that she’s snarky, but she’s different than Micah in the way that she doesn’t get as much shit for it. She also has a tiny subplot where her girlfriend (she’s a lesbian) wants to end their relationship now so it doesn’t implode later when they’re both off at separate colleges. Micah’s other friend is Emma’s cousin, Carl, who is really Micah’s only friend at school (Emma goes to a different school) and also seems to be the only non-homophobic straight person in the place. We didn’t see much of Carl, which is a bit of a pity because he was usually good for a laugh. He was initially only friends with Micah because Emma told him to be, but by this point the two of them seem to really like each other and they get on well. The first friend Micah seems to make on his own is Jack Bailey, a boy who initially seemed homophobic when Micah first meets him on the bus to training camp, but actually turned out not to be and he and Micah actually became buddies fairly quick. Micah makes one other friend at camp, Kyle Marks, the son of one of the camp coaches. Kyle is the only other out gay person at the camp and he and Micah eventually start a relationship. However, their futures are pretty unpredictable so it’s a short-lived romance. There’s another short-lived friendship with a new girl named Mardi, who turns out to be the second out gay person at the school (she’s bi), but we don’t really see much of her before Micah is off to camp. She wants to start a GSA at the school (good luck to her with that) and she wants Micah to help her out. And that’s really all we see of her.
The Side Characters: Declan and Simon are the two leads from the previous book that Micah first appeared in (from what I understand). I didn’t read their story, so all I know about them is from what’s shown in this book. Declan and Simon are boyfriends, and apparently the only (or the first) out AFL members, though I don’t think they actually play anymore. Declan is a sort of mentor to Micah, and Micah is constantly disappointing him. All Declan seems to do in this book is get angry at Micah whenever Micah ‘fucks up’, which happens a lot so my main impression of Declan is that he has a short fuse when it comes to Micah. I get that a lot of that is from whatever went on in the last book, but none of that translates well to this one. I don’t know what the relationship between Simon and Micah is like, but we don’t actually see a lot of Simon. Just enough to let us know that he’s kinda similar to Micah in terms of humour and snark, but that’s all I got from him. Micah’s parents and his little brother, 11-year-old Alex, are my favourite side characters, especially Alex. Alex is an overly intelligent pre-teen, but he’s actually pretty sarcastic and funny, and his interactions with Micah are adorable. Micah’s parents are also pretty cool; they’re very supportive of Micah and they worry about him, but they seem to have avoided whatever it is that makes the other characters constantly shit on Micah over his past behaviour. Will Deanes is a closeted boy from Micah’s school who harrasses Micah online with homophobic slurs, is terrified of coming out to his homophobic father, and punched Micah in the face at one point and knocked him out (which Micah mostly deserved because he was being a complete creep there). Boyd Davies is one of Micah’s camp mates and is probably the most openly homophobic and hateful character in the story. I absolutely hated this character and I never felt that he got much punishment over his awful behaviour (if anything it sometimes came off like he got rewarded for it).
The Sex: None, no sex here. I expected that since this is a young adult book. Having said that, there is some crude talk and some sexual humour (teenagers). There are also some mentions of past sex acts and one instance where it’s implied that Micah and Kyle engaged in some sexual shenanigans though it’s just as likely that they didn’t. There’s enough to say for sure that these teenage characters are sexually active on some level, but we never read about it.
The Writing: Grammar- and spelling-wise the writing is good. I think there was only one instance of name confusion and one typo. The story and characters are where this fell a bit flat for me. I started out liking this book; I found Micah pretty amusing and was getting into the story when I thought it was gonna be about starting a GSA at his school. But this turned out to not have much of a story at all; this seems mostly character driven, which wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d liked more of the characters, most of them annoyed me. Another big problem I had was the lack of back story. I feel like a large chunk of the story, something that better explains the behaviour of the characters and Micah’s motivation to better himself, happened in another book that most people probably wouldn’t have thought to read because 1) it’s part of a completely different series, and 2) the other book is part of an adult series and this book is YA. Also the ending was pretty bleak, and that just really ruined it for me.
[The Ongoing Reformation of Micah Johnson was published April 7, 2016, by Harmony Ink Press; it is available both in print and as an ebook]