Erin Reilly-Sanders's Reviews > Totally Joe

Totally Joe by James Howe
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Jan 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, gender, juvenile, glbt, realistic

I had quite a bit of fun with this one. It's cute and endearing without running into sappy and keeps moving along with a contagious excitement. The only things I can think to really complain of are the convenience of the alpha-biography form that is a sort of thin shell for a mostly chronological narrative (what kid actually starts a year long assignment in October?) and the lack of citations in the xylophone chapter. Really. I'm that kind of insane teacher that I would expect some type of citations in a book pretending to be a 7th grader's report. I don't think it would hurt the book, although it might "slow" it down a little, and I think it would add a good example. We have many mixed ideas for ownership of ideas in our culture and I guess I'm temporarily siding with the traditionalists here. But back to Joe. I think some people have worried about Joe presenting a stereotype of what it is to be gay. I don't really agree. I think Howe does a good job of showing three different ways of being gay and does so without making value judgements about them. Yes, if you read only one story about being a gay boy, you will likely end up with a stereotypical view of what it is to be gay so I do recommend reading more than one book (see http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_a...). I think that Joe seems entirely possible and perhaps even probably, although maybe in a slightly idealized world but I'll leave that for well-read readers and seventh grade boys who are out to decide. Which is not to say that Totally Joe doesn't talk about more than being gay. It has some nice points about friendship, bullying, and middle school life in general that make it a worthwhile read just on those strengths.
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