My Life as a Myth, Huston Piner
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: LGBT (G), First Love, 1960’s, Family, School
Length: 234 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
If you’re not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.
It’s August 27th, 1969. And it’s Nick Horton’s first day of high school. He feels like a text book case of a loser. He doesn’t have many friends and school is not a joy. He’s certainly not overly confident and feels somewhat like an outcast –
A social life? I don’t have one; the few acquaintances I have don’t really count. If I vanished out of their lives, they’d never notice. My only real friend is Bruce Philemon, he says I just need to try harder. So to help me try harder, I’m starting this journal.
And that is exactly what Nick does. He starts a journal and that is how this book is told.
While Nick is waiting for the bus home, Andy Framingham decides to chat up a girl. When the girl’s older and larger boyfriend is going to show him just how he feels about that, Andy throws a can of coke down on the pavement spraying everyone with the contents –
Just as they prepared to kill Andy and hide the corpse, Mr Wiggins, the elementary school principal came running from the building. He yanked Andy out of harm’s way and announced he would report everyone to the high school principal.
“Horton? I remember you, still making trouble, eh? Well, this time Mr Fuddle will see you pay for it.”
This starts off a series of events in Nick’s life. Nick really isn’t trouble. He just wants to go to school, not get beaten up, not be embarrassed in PE –
The way some of them show off makes me very nervous. Talk about embarrassing! You’d think “faggot” was my name! Today I just tried to keep my head down, change fast, and get out of there.
…and the change rooms, have some friends and a bit of a social life, ride the bus in peace, get a locker in a better location – not on Dead Student’s Row, as he names it – and go home every day without much drama. But the list that Mr Wiggins gives the principal at his high school has his name at the top for the coke-can-fountain incident, not Andy Framingham. Then a few other events occur where Nick is the one seen to be doing something he shouldn’t. But the real bombshell occurs when Nick mixes up the name of the film he is to meet Bruce at, and ends up in a theatre watching Fellini’s Satyricon. The film is a bit of a revelation, so much so it is raided by the police, he is taken out like a criminal, photos are taken, he makes the news and the front paper of the local paper. Nick is suddenly a rebel.
Meanwhile, Nick has come to the attention of Jesse Gaston and his gang – Gary, Matt, and Bobby Warren. Jesse is an interesting character who seems to get intense delight in taking Nick under his wing and talking up his bad boy persona. When Nick jokes that he is Napalm Nick Jesse runs with that name. Napalm Nick is a good rebel’s name, something he can work with. And work with it Jesse does. Jesse is the ultimate school spin-doctor –
Every time I attempted to reveal the truth about how I ended up at a movie destined to be raided, Jesse always jumped in to enlarge on my magnificence, my audacity, and my criminal invincibility.
I’ve come to realize that it is useless to argue with Jesse Gaston. When he decides to do something he can come up with a hundred reasons to convince you to go along.
And very soon Nick becomes cool. Rumours spread, aided by Jesse. The girls all want to be with him, guys want to be seen with him, and his social life has never looked better. The thing is, Nick is not Napalm Nick, he’s just a fourteen year old trying to find his way and discovering bit by bit that he isn’t attracted to girls. He is, however, attracted to guys and in particular he’s attracted to Bobby Warren.
Nick comes from a fairly typical suburban family of the era – his mum stays at home, his dad works, there are rules, but a certain amount of freedom. And, oh yes, he has two older brothers, Nathan who died in Vietnam after being drafted, and Raymond who has disappointed the family by growing his hair, and dropping out to live in a commune – very sixties. Neither name is allowed to be spoken in the household for the last three years for different reasons. Pretty hard on a young boy who just wants to talk about his brothers. But, once again, fairly typical of many families of any era, just change the war.
Increasingly, Nick is realising that girls just aren’t who/what he finds attractive. He tries everything to see if he can be like other guys who talk about girls. Who like Playboy. But perplexingly (at first) he’s not. He also isn’t enjoying being Napalm Nick. It’s not who he is either, but it’s better than being a loser…and there are perks. Plus there’s a protection in the group and he cant bring too much attention on himself for other reasons –
Damn it! The truth is maybe I do sort of like guys. I just don’t know. But I can’t let Jesse and the guys think I’m a fag. Okay. I’ll be Napalm Nick for a month or two longer. Maybe after things die down I can move on and be a normal teenager again. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
But Jesse continues to weave his magic and the rumour mill just chugs along. Nick also makes a friend with a senior, Brian. Brian is a popular jock but he likes Bobby and is rather mellow and very much full of live and let live philosophy. There was definitely more of a story to Brian and I would like to know more about him. Meanwhile, Nick and Bobby are growing closer and closer. Nick gets to stay over at Bobby’s. He lives in the FROG – front room over garage – and his parents are former beatniks who are liberal in their thinking. Nick and Bobby discover a lot of things together, their likes are similar, they are both sweet, young boys, they are gay, they grow close as friends and fairly soon they are intimate with each other. The author does a good job of displaying teenagers – their language, their fears, their worries, their intensity of feelings. After Nick wakes up naked next to Bobby the first time –
I dried my hair with the damp towel. Bobby had rolled over and snored quietly, now clutching a pillow. I finished dressing and watched him sleep for a minute, taking in how perfect he was from head to toe. My God, he’s beautiful, I thought, and I felt myself stiffen. It took me a couple of minutes to tear myself away from just admiring him.
There are some things you just know you’ll remember all your life and I knew right then that even when I’m a hundred, remembering him sleeping like that will bring out the same feelings in me.
To later when they are intimate –
Then something in me snapped, and all my frustrations transformed into desire. When we got to my room, I closed and locked the door behind me. I put my hand on Bobby’s shoulder, turned him around, took him in my arms, and kissed him. His eyes told me it was unexpected but welcome, and we fell onto the bed.
I felt him up and loosened his shirt and trousers. He stiffened as I ran my fingers through his hair. He moaned softly and at that moment, I don’t think I could have stopped myself it I tried.
Right now Bobby’s sleeping next to me. He’s beautiful when he sleeps. I can’t believe how much I love him. It’s not just the physical stimulation I get from him. It makes me just as happy to do things for him as when he does things to me. It’s even enough just to be with him, like now, and to know that he loves me as much as I love him.
And the two boys do fall very much in love. But life is not easy. Napalm Nick is a lot to live up to. Jesse complicates this immeasurably and everywhere Nick turns there is pressure – girls he isn’t interested in wanting more, being gay but having to hide it, being a rebel that he isn’t. A new series of events as someone is blowing up trashcans at school and one of the teachers is now tailing him everywhere he goes as they believe Napalm Nick is the person behind it.
Then there are family matters ready to take centre stage in Nick’s life. His brother – Raymond – comes home unexpectedly for Christmas. He hitch hikes from San Francisco and while their mother is glad to see him, their father isn’t. But Raymond stays and cleans himself up – a shave, a hair cut – and even his father is feeling better about Raymond now. Nick is glad to have his brother home and he feels that Christmas is better for having him there. There is much to learn about one another in a short time – like Nick is now smoking pot, cigarettes, drinking beer, and taking magic mushies –
He and I snuck off to get high before supper. This time he provided the weed….He called the marijuana Acapulco Gold, whatever it is, it’s damn potent. When we got home and wandered into the kitchen, both smiling from ear to ear and giggling, my mother cracked us up saying how nice it was to see her “two little boys” having so much fun together.
But Raymond has a secret and when it is revealed things will never be the same in the Horton family again.
I won’t say anymore about the plot because I will ruin the book and it is best read. What I will add is this. Every chapter is headed up with a song title of the period that is incredibly apt. The last two chapters were beautifully named. Perhaps some people may feel unsure about the use of drugs or alcohol by minors, but this is what was happening at the time. Still does now. It isn’t glorified, it’s just part of the times and the story. Did every kid experiment in the 60’s? No. But a lot did. The 60’s was a crazy era of change mixed with a lingering conservatism. I lived during this era, was around the same age as the characters and I did all of these things…and then some. The music listed – I had every single one – bar the jazz – on vinyl. The attitudes that are portrayed were so real. The culture. But here’s the thing, this book translates well to today. There is still the group mentality, the homophobia. How difficult it is to be an outcast at school. How the word “faggot” is more than just a name. How friends can turn on you and the hurt that is associated. The fracturing of a family. The mistakes parent’s make, and the repercussions. There are some real messages that are not lost between 1969 and 2013.
My Life as a Myth is one of the most realistic LGBTQ YA books that has crossed my desk and I encourage anyone who may be remotely interested to read this book. I am so glad I did. I will also add this – there is no HEA. I say this because some people will rate badly if that is the case and they are not aware of it. So, I’m throwing that out there as much as I don’t want to have to say that.
If you like a period piece. If you are interested in the 60’s. If you like LGBTQ YA, if you like humour, a message, young love, and can handle a bittersweet piece of fiction that is firmly rooted in reality, then please do yourself a favour and read the beautifully written, wonderfully named My Life as a Myth.
It may be hard to be true to yourself, especially if you’re different and people hate you for it; but it’s still harder living your life as a myth. It’s a lie and in the end it’s self-defeating. In the long run, it’s better to let people know the real you. It may be hard, but it’s a lot less complicated, and at least you find out who your real friends are.
If you love someone, go on and tell them. If they can’t love you just because you’re different, you’re better off without them. And when you find someone who loves you too, don’t let anybody or anything stand in your way.
– Bobby Warren.