Noah Henderson lives in a pressure cooker. Noah and his family (his mother, a perfectionist with aspirations of social climbing, and his new stepfather, a devout Mormon), are at first the perfect image of a Mormon Utah family. They attend church with incredible devotion, they read the Book of Mormon together, they aspire to rise in the church and never question authority, until Noah undergoes a serious trauma that makes him feel as though he’ll never be normal again.
Told from Noah’s perspective, Bryce Hunter’s GETTING GAY is a story about the ways that insular communities, rampant homophobia, and unchecked ideology impact us all. Or at least, it could be—though Noah’s story is full of raw and very affecting emotion, it focuses so much on the experience and effects of trauma that the recovery feels too quick and unearned.
After he experiences a violent sexual assault at the hands of the kids he thinks are his friends, Noah struggles with homophobia and his fears of becoming gay; unfortunately, he never deals with his own internalized homophobia, nor the impact of his actions on others. The novel ends just as we might finally get to a place where some understanding might be possible—instead, we get revenge sequences and a romantic scene in which it becomes clear that the trauma is over.
Where the novel could consider the lasting impacts of trauma, it instead seems to deliver the message that time and distance–not introspection, not therapy, not intentional, devoted work–will end the impact of sexual violence. To be fair, this resolution comes fairly quickly—we don’t know for certain that Noah is healed, but the ending gives us so little to work on that it’s the logical conclusion. Instead of a novel about healing and growth, GETTING GAY is instead a novel about trauma, and not the trauma the title implies.
There’s a lot that’s worthwhile about GETTING GAY—it is certainly emotionally investing, and its early chapters do an excellent job of setting up the conditions that make Noah so unable to get help for what he experiences. It’s a culture of shame, bigotry, and quietly covering up anything that isn’t perfect, including the trauma of a young boy. Unfortunately, only one of these elements is explored, and the conclusion comes so quickly that it feels like a midpoint, not an ending, robbing it of lasting impact.
~Melissa Brinks for IndieReader