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Totally Joe

"Click on image to go to James Howe site."

Book Description

Joe's teacher asks his seventh-grade class to write an alphabiography throughout the year, presenting themselves and their lives in entries from A to Z. Joe's essays begin and end with friends, from Addie, a long-time pal and confidant, to Zachary, a new student who, like Joe, has a unique approach to life. Throughout, Joe demonstrates that he truly is a one-of-a-kind kid, mostly comfortable with himself but still struggling with common adolescent issues. It's difficult for him to relate to his athletic brother, and he misses his much-loved Aunt Pam, who moves to New York City. He also comes to grips with his sexuality, questioning gender expectations and traditional roles as he realizes he is gay. Because he is different, he is tormented by Kevin, who calls him a girl and faggot and falsely accuses him of kissing his friend Colin (a jock not yet ready to come out). Joe's narration always feels honest if not entirely credible. He and his family accept his emerging sexuality rather easily. While a range of responses is depicted, the characters seem to come around too quickly. For example, when the principal is informed of Kevin's actions, he, too, handles the situation expeditiously, and the troublemaker conveniently transfers to another school. Though idealized and contrived, the approach is novel and the conclusion optimistic.

From Booklist

Joe, one of the characters in The Misfits (2001), has his say, in a voice uniquely his own. Twelve-year-old Joe knows he is gay. He played with Barbies as a young child, prefers cooking to sports, and has a crush on a male classmate. Written in the form of an assignment--an "alphabiography"--the story takes readers through the school year, one letter at a time: G is for the Gang of Five, Joe's misfit friends, who are utterly loyal when he falls for Colin. But Colin is less secure about his sexuality than Joe is, and when the rumor goes around that the boys have been seen kissing, he quashes the relationship. Joe survives the crush, and the book has an upbeat ending. ?Actually, despite a few worries, the whole book is cheerful and optimistic. Joe's family is supportive, and the kids from the nasty (Christian) family that wants to stop the Gay-Straight Alliance are removed to a different school. In other words, there's nothing terribly realistic about the scenario; in many ways, the book is reminiscent of David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy (2003), which was for a slightly older audience. Obviously, the novel will be problematic for some--not only because of the gay theme and Joe's age but also the stereotypic portrayal of the bullying Christian family. Joe himself often comes off as a cross between Niles Crane and Harvey Fierstein. But he also reacts like a kid, and readers in his situation will wish for the love and support he receives from friends and family, as well as the happy life he so clearly envisions.

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Reviewer:Jesse Liberty "Programmer, Author" (MA USA)

A wonderful fantasy of acceptance.

This was not James Howe's life; but it may be the life he wishes he had. Totally Joe is about a boy with an incredibly accepting group of friends, a family that loves him unconditionally, and an aunt who help him come out in his own good time.

The book is a delight; a blast, a visit to a slightly different planet where being queer isn't easy, but it isn't dangerous and the hardest part is figuring out how to find your way -- pretty much like any other adolescent.

Well written as usual, and a nice sequel to the Misfits, but so far from reality (at least the reality most of us grew up with) that it can almost be filed under Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Still, I very much liked it, and recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Misfits.

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Reviewer: Sarah Stumpf (Madison, WI)

Totally Joe by James Howe follows the life of the 12-going-on-13 year old narrator Joe Bunch, and the situations within his life in the form of an alphabiography assigned by his English teacher Mr. Daly. Each chapter begins with and is structured around a letter, and each ends with a "life lesson" that Joe has learned along the way. However the book is remarkable not just for its unique and creative format, but for breaking new ground with Joe as a 12 year old gay kid. Joe is not a character questioning his sexuality; he firmly knows he is gay. However he has to navigate this, along with issues of gender, sexism, masculinity, femininity, double standards, and oppression in his middle school setting. Howe manages to deal with complex issues normally reserved for older YA or adult literature such as same-sex dating (in particular, dating someone who is closeted), GSAs, and coming out to family at this young age without ever loosing cultural authenticity. The book offers numerous insights on teenage popularity and the cutthroat war zone mentality that accompanies it, and is written in extremely contemporary language that makes the protagonist (Joe) believable and real.

The book is extremely diverse, and includes various individuals that challenge social norms, like Addie's vegetarian parents or Brian's widowed father or Skeezie's single mother. It also shows individuals like Aunt Pam who is implied to be a victim of some form of domestic abuse. The book doesn't wrap itself up in preachy diatribes on these topics, but instead weaves these elements into the average daily life of Joe Bunch.

Some critics have said that Joe's liberal family is too much of a fantasy, and to some extent that may be true. It would be rare to find a family where the grandfather is so accepting that he gives a 13 year old a little pride bumper sticker, however it is not impossible for families like this to exist now, or to inspire the straight kids that read this book to make their families that accepting in the future.

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Reviewer: Karen K. Hart (Ames, IA)

A fast-paced alphabet of fun and friendship.

Totally Joe picks up where The Misfits left off. This time Joe is the narrator instead of Bobby, and the story movies more quickly when Joe's telling it. I also felt like this book was more realistic than the last--the plot development in the Colin storyline is believable, albeit frustrating. Colin is inconsistent--and astonishingly human.

As Joe tells us about his life through the alphabiography assignment he has to write for English class, we learn about him. In some ways, he's stereotypical--the pink-flamingo presence in his bedroom is a sign of his flamboyance. In other ways, he's very much his own person. You have to love some of the unexpected little gems of humor he throws in--like "Jimmy Lemon walked around all day looking like he was sucking on his last name."

This reading flew by and left me wondering if there are going to be more books in the series.

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James Howe was born and raised in the state of New York. In 1968, he graduated from Boston University, majoring in theater arts. After he graduated, James moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting. During his time in New York City, he appeared in some commercials, directed some plays and worked as a literary agent for playwrights and other writers. Even with all of these jobs, he still found time to do what he loved the most: write.

His late wife Deborah, along with many movie versions of Dracula that were shown on television during the middle 1970’s, were credited for inspiring James to create and write his “Bunnicula” series of books. After Deborah’s death in 1978, he wrote “The Hospital Book”. This book was based on the experiences that he had during his late wife’s illness. After this book, James decided to write more books based on the characters found in “Bunnicula”: Harold, Chester, Bunnicula, Howie and the Monroes.

Besides writing the “Bunnicula” series, James has written a series of adventure books based on the character Sebastian Barth: who happens to be a thirteen-year-old sleuth. He has also written picture books, novels, and screenplays for movies and television. All told, James has written over fifty books for children.

Presently, James lives with his second wife, Betsy Imershein, and their daughter, Zoe, in up-state New York.

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Purchase the book at AMAZON.COM


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White Ribbon Campaign
Raising Awareness about Gay-Teen Suicide
And remembering those who we've lost

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Click on image to go to site.
The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Tarrant County

Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Tarrant County

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