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My Favorite Uncle
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Young Adult Discussions > Marshall Thornton, My Favorite Uncle

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Ulysses Dietz | 1563 comments My favorite Uncle

by Marshall Thornton

5 stars

Marshall Thornton’s latest departure from the “Boystown” series is an understated masterpiece, tiptoeing into young adult territory without ever losing sight of its very grown-up personality and audience.

From the cartoon-like drawings on the cover of “My Favorite Uncle” to the light-hearted sit-comic tone of the writing, Thornton’s book disguises a complex, sober story under the droll banter and teenaged eye-rolling of “Modern Family” (one, I hasten to add, that would never make it on national TV).

Martin may not be happy, but having his gay teenaged nephew appear on his doorstep isn’t going to help. Carter, newly eighteen and out, has fled his born-again family on the assumption that his gay uncle in Los Angeles will welcome him with open arms.


Truth is, Martin is sort of a prig. He is so wrapped in layers of self-protection that his naturally generous heart has almost forgotten how to care. Thornton doesn’t make it easy to like Martin, or indeed many of the gay characters in this book. This is not a fantasy of gay perfection; this is study in human flaws and forgiveness.

Carter, at eighteen, is as self-centered and cluelessly arrogant as any man his age (I have two kids, eighteen and nineteen, I know what I’m talking about). Certainly exacerbated by his strict fundamentalist upbringing, Carter has a distinct fantasy of how life with his gay uncle should be, and when it doesn’t turn out that way, he sulks.

Thornton has managed to create two strong, beautifully-crafted characters, each representing a specific aspect of what it is to be a gay man today. This is not a book that paints a rosy picture of being gay, Both Martin and Carter are damaged, for very different reasons; some of which, as it happens, are their own damn fault.

The miracle of this book is that Thornton’s almost farcical narrative gradually peels away layers of pain and confusion to reveal the two men’s big hearts. It is not a straightforward path, and this book, at times, was not an easy read for me. There is pain here, some of it caused by stupid choices, more of it caused by the thoughtless cruelty of others. And while there is no horrific tragedy, we get to see the many sorrows of ordinary life amplified by being gay in a world that teaches too many bad lessons about what that means.

Just because Martin has been out and proud since Stonewall doesn’t mean he hasn’t internalized bad information. His self-defeating attitudes are frustrating. Carter’s misinformed upbringing is not treated too darkly, but misses being humorous because his problems can’t be solved with smart remarks and easy answers. As annoyingly eighteen as he is, we see a boy so desperate for love that he’ll grasp at anything while shying away from what he really needs.

Oh, and I’d like to mention how grateful I am for characters who are almost fifty. It’s nice to have some affirmation that we don’t all disappear in late middle age.

It is the miracle of “My Favorite Uncle” that we get to watch these two men fumble toward something good even as they make every possible mistake along the way. There is really nothing very romantic in this book; I’d even say it’s almost anti-romantic. Because love is not, in the end, romantic. Love is, it seems, doing what you have to do to survive. And that was the novel’s biggest surprise of all.

message 2: by Mercedes (new)

Mercedes | 373 comments sounds like a great book! I liked The Ghost Slept Over so I am going to give this one a try too.

PaperMoon | 665 comments On my list Uly thanks.

Ulysses Dietz | 1563 comments The Ghost Slept Over is lighter than this--although that's not obvious. This is a serious book, I think...I was really moved by this...hard to describe what I mean.

message 5: by Stephen (last edited Sep 23, 2014 11:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Stephen (havan) | 14 comments I read and reviewed this as well but I'm NOT sure that I'd class it as a YA read. For me it was really about Martin, the pushing 50 guy.

For me the kid was an annoying mix of sheltered living, Fundy misinformation, self-centered teen-aged thoughtlessness, and youthful confidence in his own invulnerability.

I did end up liking it more than I thought I would after reading just the first 100 pages or so.

Ulysses Dietz | 1563 comments Oh, Stephen, I agree. Not YA, but he captures the boy's attitude (as did you) the way a good YA book does...definitely about Martin finding his heart, both as a lover and as a potential father.

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