Gay coming out novels are a dime a dozen. But The World of Normal Boys is something else. It’s a detailed, play-by-play exploration into the consciousness of a 13-year-old boy as he struggles to figure out who he is meant to be.
K.M. Soehnlein's book encapsulates all the pain and pleasure of growing up a little different, in a society still unsure of the benefits of diversity. Richard Labonte appreciated Soehnlein’s Lambda Award-winning literary effort for opening up the gate for a new type of coming out book – one that even though it’s set in a 1970s New Jersey suburb, it strikes a chord beyond its time and place.
“Everyone you meet here in San Francisco has some anecdote about 'the wild night I ended up in SoMa,’” author Kemble Scott said back in 2007. Sure, the neighborhood has experienced a gentrified taming since then. The outdoor orgies of yesteryear have been replaced by outdoor patio furniture stores, but luckily the gritty South of Market spirit – a cornucopia of illicit drugs and sexcapades – has been cleverly captured by Scott, pen name of journalist provocateur Scott James, who now writes a local column for The New York Times.
SoMa follows the intertwined path of three young people struggling in San Francisco immediately after the first dot com bust. Unemployed and desensitized, they push their limits and their luck to try to regain a sense of fulfillment. SoMa is now an artifact of the oftentimes-surreal turn-of-the-century subcultures that were embedded in the neighborhood.
It’s difficult to find anything negatively written about Justin Torres’ debut fiction novel, We the Animals -- and that’s probably because nothing negative has yet been written. Dorothy Allison called it, “a miracle in concentrated pages,” and Michael Cunningham said it was, “a dark jewel of a book.” So Torres is a literary wunderkind of sorts, but despite the buzzy accolades, the current Stegner fellow and queer scribe is still humbly bewildered by the success of a book by a gay brown author – especially his very own.