It’s bad enough being smart or fat in a high school with known bullying issues, Rusty Winters is both. It’s even worse to be gay, which is unfortunate for new kid Beau Gales.
When Beau arrives, Rusty’s first thought is relief when she thinks the school might have someone else to target for a while. But when Rusty and Beau become fast friends, it hits her hard when Beau’s bullying escalates to a beating on his way home. Rusty and fellow misfit Leonie readily agree to follow Beau when he decides to run away to San Francisco to ask his gay uncle for advice.
This road-trip novel is peppered with nods to The Wizard of Oz that range from clever to heavy-handed. A detour to the town of Forks (of “Twilight” fame) and numerous additional plot points—including the friends deciding how to properly deal with Leonie’s molestation by her teacher and others, a car-jacking, and more—force much of the character development off-page in the form of time jumps and informative asides.
Lengthy passages about the devastating effects of the AIDS outbreak, often reductive explanations of the gay rights movement, and numerous reminders about the importance of tolerance lend a self-righteous tone to the narrative.
While the issues of bullying and gay rights are timely, outmoded pop-culture references and odd slang choices lend a dated feel to this novel. Worth a look for those hoping to flesh out their LGBTQ or bullying selections as well as hardcore Oz-philes. A good choice to pair with Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.
*A slightly different version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*