Debbie Harry Sings in French

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Johnny’s had kind of a tough life so far, and he’s always been a bit of a freak. His goth look usually includes black nail polish and a little mascara.When he discovers Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, he not only likes her music but realizes that he kind of, sort of, wants to BE her. He’d like to be cool and tough and beautiful like her. He’d like to dress like her. He’s not gay, at least he doesn’t think so. So what does it mean? And what should he tell his amazing ...

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Debbie Harry Sings in French

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Overview

Johnny’s had kind of a tough life so far, and he’s always been a bit of a freak. His goth look usually includes black nail polish and a little mascara.When he discovers Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, he not only likes her music but realizes that he kind of, sort of, wants to BE her. He’d like to be cool and tough and beautiful like her. He’d like to dress like her. He’s not gay, at least he doesn’t think so. So what does it mean? And what should he tell his amazing new girlfriend?

This wise, hip novel introduces shades of gray into the black-and-white ideas of sexuality and gender. Anyone who has ever wished they could be a little bit tough and a little bit glamorous will recognize themselves in Johnny.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "Will keep readers fully engaged." — Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"Tightly woven writing." - Kirkus

"An easy recommendation for reluctant readers." — Booklist

"Will hit home with many teens struggling to find their identity." — Kliatt

"A unique exploration of how trauma can change someone - and an inspiring message of how an individual has some say in the world." — ElleGirl

Publishers Weekly

In this impressive debut novel, the "problem" (transvestitism) is so nimbly woven into the narrative that it will barely surprise readers. After a successful stay at a rehab facility, 17-year-old Johnny, a recovering alcoholic, is sent by his mother to live with her late husband's brother, Sam. There he begins a relationship with fellow prep-school student Maria; they bond over music and over their outcast status (classmates falsely assume Johnny is gay and taunt him). Johnny harbors a throwback fascination with Debbie Harry ("I imagined her as a cross between Jean Seberg from Breathless and the St. Pauli Girl. I wanted that voice to sing to me forever"), and Maria nurtures it, even when it folds into a desire to look like Harry—tough and beautiful. It's Maria who encourages him to perform, dressed as Harry, in a drag contest. Meanwhile Johnny's relationship with his uncle provides some of the most touching scenes: through Sam, Johnny comes to know his late father not as a withdrawn, road-weary businessman but as someone more surprising (and more like him). Although the novel can feel plot-heavy, the brisk pace and the strong-willed, empathetic narrator will keep readers fully engaged. Ages 14—up. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Ashleigh Larsen
Johnny never seems to fit in, and his Goth clothes and eye makeup don't help. Circumstances surrounding his father's tragic death force him to become independent at an early age. Unlike most teens, he learns to pay the bills and balance a checkbook, but he also needs a way to escape from this adult world. Johnny becomes a teenage alcoholic. He is put in rehab after an accident at a club; it is at rehab that he first listens to Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie. Her voice keeps him sober. Debbie's pictures on the front of albums make her look strong and brave, something he wishes he could be. His obsession for her transforms dramatically, to the point where he wants to walk around in a dress and heels so he can be as beautiful as she is. With such passionate feelings, he is confused as to why he even considers this. Johnny doesn't think he is gay, but he is not sure how to define himself. This coming-of-age novel will hit home with many teens struggling to find their identity, whether sexually or emotionally. Rough language permeates this novel, but it parallels the harsh journey Johnny faces in accepting himself and wanting others to do the same. Reviewer: Ashleigh Larsen
Children's Literature - Margaret C. F. Pollock
Feelings of restlessness in a tragic family setting drew teenage Johnny into a booze-and-drug crowd, until a near-death overdose forced him to make a change. Johnny's mother first sent him to Parkwood to detox, then away to his uncle to start over. Parkwood proved a turning point for Johnny, because it was there that he first heard a recording of magnetic vocalist Debbie Harry, singing in French. Her singing became the only thing that made him happy. Johnny actually longed to be Debbie, singing in her white dress, all brave and cool and a little bit tough. After Parkwood, the turning point for Johnny was his move to Uncle Sam's town, for there he met a new girlfriend—who was brave and cool and a little bit tough. She encouraged Johnny to have fun playing Debbie Harry at a drag show. Fully gowned and made up, he lip-synced Debbie's song before an applauding crowd. Johnny's roller coaster ride of a life continues dramatically to rise and fall, until, in the end, Johnny finds validation from a most unexpected source. The young author of this book uses a spare, sinewy style to drive this surprising story in high gear from the first chapter. The main character, Johnny, experiments his way through adolescence, not very much in control as he searches for a kind of happiness that will help him understand himself. Throughout, Johnny remains a sympathetic character, because of a hidden sweetness. This book features subjects that may shock adults, but that are common parts of the adolescent world. Providing parents permit such content, this would be an engaging book for a high school health class discussing drugs, alcohol, sexual relations, sexual identity, death of a parent, andparent/child relations after divorce. Reviewer: Margaret C. F. Pollock
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

In 1990s Tampa, a week after Johnny's 13th birthday, his father dies in a horrible auto accident, his mother shuts down, and the boy is left to cope for himself. While somehow managing to maintain his grades and pay the bills, he also takes up the goth lifestyle and begins drinking so heavily that by 16 he ends up in a hospital from an accidental overdose. After a stint in rehab where he first hears and falls in love with singer Debbie Harry, Johnny is shipped off to live with his paternal uncle in South Carolina. Bullies at Langley Prep taunt him because they think he is gay, but with his supportive new girlfriend, Maria, and understanding Uncle Sam, Johnny finally realizes that he has more than a fixation on the performer. He wants to sing and dress like her. Maria encourages him to enter a competition as Debbie Harry at a drag club in Atlanta, and his uncle reveals surprising details about his father. With such a problem-heavy novel, at times the book comes close to overpowering the real "problem"-Johnny's transvestism. Still, having a straight, cross-dressing protagonist is groundbreaking YA fiction.-Betty S. Evans, Missouri State University, Springfield

Kirkus Reviews
After a trip to the emergency room occasioned by an adverse drug-alcohol interaction, troubled, Blondie-obsessed Johnny moves from Tampa to South Carolina to stay with his uncle. There he meets Maria, the cool girl at school who shares his love of punk music. He loves everything he hears, but he loves Debbie Harry the most: her voice, her fierce look and the power behind her music. All he can think about is stepping into her clothes and onto the stage. Readers will know that Johnny isn't queer: He's crushing on Maria, protecting her from a bullying ex and trying to set things right in his life. Debbie abets his eminently believable transition, acting as much more than obsession-she's his role model. Brothers's characters and voices stay right on target along the way; plotting is the only problematic element, specifically the dispersed and winding expository beginning. Teens probably won't mind, however, and will most likely get sucked right in to Johnny's world of punk, strife, curiosity and confusion. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805080803
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 5/27/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 560L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

MEAGAN BROTHERS made a name for herself in NYC’s spoken-word scene. Her chapbook, 1978, was published in 2001 by CafeMo Press, and in 2003 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This is her first novel, and she is currently at work on the second.

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Read an Excerpt

Debbie Harry Sings in French


By Meagan Brothers

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Copyright © 2008 Meagan Brothers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805080803

Debbie Harry Sings in French
Living in the Real WorldTessa was cool because she brought records. Not CDs, but actual vinyl. She bought them from this record store called Right Round Records--she had a crush on the clerk. The only problem was she didn't actually have a record player. So she brought them over to my house."That's one of the things I'm gonna buy with your mom's money," Tessa told me as she drove us both through the palm-tree-lined Tampa suburb where I lived. My dad's company had just merged with another company in Nashville, so he was on the road all the time. My mom worked as a paralegaluntil around seven, so she hired Tessa to pick me up after school and hang out with me at home until she got back. Before, I had to take the bus to the YMCA after-school program, so Tessa was definitely a step up. At least she never tried to bean me with a tetherball or lock me in the snack closet. She was a senior with a cool record store crush and a Toyota Corolla with a bumper sticker that said MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOM. I was twelve.The first thing Tessa ever did when she came to the house was dig out my mom's record collection from its place on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. She flipped through them fast, big puffs of dust rising and catching the light coming from the front window."Lessee ... Beatles, Beatles, Beatles, Beach Boys, Herman's Hermits, more Beatles, Wings, Goodnight, Vienna, Beatles again--shame she couldn't decide on a favorite band." She gave me a smirk and kept flipping. "Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Association, Donovan--somebody's mom was a hippie.""Yeah, I guess so." I'd seen pictures of her as a teenager, in patched-up bell-bottom jeans, with long straight hair down to her waist. Somewherealong the line, though, she transformed into my mom, a regular lady with a perm and a Cutlass Ciera."What about your dad?""He doesn't really like music.""Doesn't like music?" Tessa sneezed and put the records back on the shelf. "Johnny, everybody likes something, even if it's Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. What does he listen to in the car?""Talk radio.""Wow, you're serious. That's weird.""He's just kind of a quiet guy, I guess." My dad and I used to play together a lot when I was a little kid--he taught me how to play soccer--but as I got older, we played together less and less. He took longer and longer business trips. By the time Tessa started coming over, I barely saw him, and when I did, it was usually some strange late-night encounter. I'd be up watching Saturday Night Live, and he'd just be getting home. He'd fix himself a drink and sink into his recliner to watch TV with me. He'd light up a cigarette, and I'd get tense. He only smoked when he was stressed out. I'd start praying for a funny skit, like Mike Myers dressed up as Simon, the kid in thebathtub, or Chris Farley doing the "van down by the river" guy. Dad always laughed at those--if he laughed, I knew everything was okay. But sometimes he didn't, even if "Coffee Talk" or the "Chris Farley Show" came on. He'd just sit there, not laughing. Sometimes it was like he wasn't even watching the TV at all--he was staring past it, looking at the dark.The records Tessa brought over were ones I'd never heard of. This was back in the early nineties, when Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Green Day were on the radio. Tessa didn't like any of that stuff. Her records had these obscure, blurry covers, or were just really dark. And they were almost always British."I can't deal with all that third-rate Ramones-rip-off crap!" she would exclaim, as if the radio had personally insulted her. We always listened to music in the afternoon while I was struggling through my Math Concepts homework and she was reading Mary Shelley. The bands she liked were the Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, New Order, the Sisters of Mercy, the Damned, and, her favorite, Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was weird, dark, clangy, sort of depressing music, but I liked it. I liked everythingabout Tessa. The clothes she wore, all black and lacy, and the way she wore black lipstick instead of red. She looked like a spider-girl. When my homework was done, we'd dance around the brown-carpeted living room. I imitated the dance she did--head down, feet shuffling, occasionally spinning--thinking she just made it up herself, not realizing until later, when I started going to Goth clubs, that it was how everybody danced to that kind of music.At that point, I wasn't popular or unpopular in school. I was just sort of there. I had a couple of friends, but they were starting to get seriously involved in other things, like girls and sports teams. I knew Tessa was being paid to hang out with me, but, still, I felt like I had a cool, older friend--and a girl, to boot. I didn't know if I wanted Tessa to be my girlfriend or my big sister. But the days flew by, every school day just another waiting period until I got to hang out with her, go to the record store with her, dance with her in the living room to clangy British spider-music.Then, one night, coming home from a conference in Miami, my dad fell asleep at the wheel. Hiscar jumped the median and slammed into a tour bus full of old people. The bus driver was killed instantly, along with two of the tourists. My father's funeral was held a week after my thirteenth birthday. 
First my dad's brother, my uncle Sam, came for a while to help us out, but he didn't stay very long. He had a daughter, a seven-year-old we all called Bug, even though her real name was Ruth. Uncle Sam's wife left him for the doctor who delivered Bug. A few days after the funeral, though, I overheard Mom talking to her sister, my aunt Lorraine. My mom was lying in her bed--she'd been there since we first got word about the accident."I want Sam to leave," Mom told Aunt Lorraine."He's being a big help. He paid for the funeral." Aunt Lorraine was the sensible one. She lived in Tucson with her second husband and combined family of five kids. My dad used to call them the Brady Bunch."I know. But he's--he just reminds me too much of ..." Mom started crying again. My dad and Sam were brothers, but I didn't think they looked anything alike. Still, he and Bug left the next day.After a couple of weeks, Aunt Lorraine had to go back to Tucson, and my mom pretty much flipped out. Well, maybe not flipped out so much as just slowed to a halt. She kept calling in sick to work. Tessa and I would come home to find her still there in the afternoons, knocked out on sleeping pills or drinking gin and watching the soaps. We didn't play music at all, and pretty soon Tessa stopped being able to hang out, because my mom couldn't pay her. I guess my mom figured she was home anyway, so why did I need a babysitter? Tessa called a few times to check up on me, but pretty soon she stopped calling, and I didn't see her anymore.I took the bus after school and got my homework done on the way so I could spend the afternoons doing the real work--washing the dishes, doing the laundry, scrubbing the tub. My mom lost her job and gained about seventy-five pounds. She didn't seem to see anything anymore. Like, when I'd give her my report card, she'd just sign it and not even look at the grades. She stopped looking at the mail, too, and, after our electricity got shut off, I started opening the bills and making sure they got paid on time. I figured out how to write checks andgot pretty good at forging my mom's signature. But, watching the numbers in the checkbook get smaller and smaller every month, I started to worry about how long it was going to take before the electricity was shut off for good.The insurance money that we got when my dad died and what was left of Mom's savings account were only going to last so long with her out of work. I started delivering papers, but with school and taking care of the house, I couldn't keep up. I lasted two weeks before I overslept twice in a row and got fired. It was weird to have to tell my mom she should try to get a job. She would look at me with her eyes all teary and say, "I know that, Johnny. Don't you think I know that?" I tried circling jobs I thought she'd like in the classifieds and leaving them on her nightstand, but I don't know if she couldn't get hired or if she just threw them away. We had to move to a tiny little two-bedroom house in what my mom called a "white-trash neighborhood." Neither of us liked the place, but I was just glad she'd gotten motivated enough to find us a new house. I was afraid we were going to end up living in the Cutlass Ciera.I guess you can figure out why I started drinking. I didn't do it just to get wasted, like some kids, or to impress anyone. I kept it to myself. I was stressed, and, on top of it all, I was afraid somebody would find out how bad a shape my mom was in and send me to an orphanage or a foster home. I couldn't talk to anybody; I couldn't ask for help. But I could raid the liquor cabinet, and I was killing two birds with one stone. I was getting rid of the stuff so Mom wouldn't drink it, and I was giving myself a nice, easy buzz that helped me fall into a quiet, dreamless sleep.Text copyright @ 2008 by Meagan Brothers

Continues...

Excerpted from Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers Copyright © 2008 by Meagan Brothers. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2012

    Great read!!

    I love this book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 6, 2012

    I Recommend It Because...

    it dives into the mind of a possible transvestite. Anyone who wants to learn more about this topic while reading a touch story will thoroughly enjoy this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Breanna F. for TeensReadToo.com

    Johnny has had a bit of a tough life so far and he has always been somewhat of a freak. When he was younger, his father died and his mother completely fell apart. Johnny had to learn how to pay the bills and practically take care of the both of them. When Johnny ended up falling into the Goth scene, his mother somehow came out of her funk and became all concerned for Johnny. All Johnny wants to do is party with his friends and drink. But, one night at a club, this girl gives him some sort of drug when all he wanted was an aspirin - and he ends up in the hospital from a drug overdose.

    Of course, after the overdose, his mother sends him to rehab, and while there Johnny discovers Debbie Harry of Blondie singing in French. He is immediately taken aback. Debbie's voice blows him away, and it doesn't hurt that she's a complete bombshell.

    After Johnny gets back from rehab, things are a bit weird between him and his mother. His mom can't handle it, so she sends him away to live with his Uncle Sam and his daughter, Bug, in South Carolina. Johnny is flaming angry at first, but once there realizes that his Uncle is pretty great and Bug is an awesome little kid. And of course, there's Maria Costello (as in Elvis). She's an interesting girl who Johnny takes a liking to pretty quickly. When Maria discovers Johnny's love of Debbie, and that secretly Johnny wants to be like her, she buys this dress that looks like one of Debbie's and tells Johnny about a drag contest in New York. At first Johnny doesn't know whether she's serious or if she's making fun of him.

    With trying to practice for the contest, helping Bug with projects for school, getting bullied nonstop by some guys who used to be Maria's friends, and dealing with the fact that his mother can't handle him, Johnny has a lot on his plate.

    DEBBIE HARRY SINGS IN FRENCH was a great debut novel by Meagan Brothers. It puts you inside the head of a pretty confused young man. Things are tough enough for teenagers in the first place, but when you throw in the loss of a parent things can be even harder. The title had me intrigued when I first picked up this book and it didn't let me down. Johnny was a really great in-depth character and so was Maria.

    If you're in the mood for reading about a slightly troubled boy who turns to Debbie Harry and his girlfriend Maria to keep him from starting to drink again, then this is a great book for you.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    Great Book!

    "Debbie Harry Sings in French" is a novel that blends two great literary genres - humor and drama. Narrated by the main character Johnny, we get a first person look at a very unique and troubled teenager. Johnny is a kid who went through a lot in his life. He had to deal with the loss of his father while he was still at a young age, which left his mother unable to deal with raising a child on her own. Johnny's behavior becomes unmanageable leading her with no other option than to send him away to his Uncle Sam's in another state. While being away from home Johnny realizes and experiences a lot of things and we get an intimate look at a boys struggle with sexuality and love. One person who plays a huge impact on Johnny is Maria. She is the one who makes him believe that he should do what he believes in - in this case dressing up in drag and feeling comfortable with himself. When she dresses him up she doesn't laugh at him or make him feel uncomfortable, she lets him know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. This book is also a great look into how powerful the music of rock n roll can be. Johnny's obsession with Debbie Harry and Blondie's music helps him deal with all of his angst. Johnny's story can apply to so many teenagers. One teenager's Debbie Harry is another teenager's Led Zeppelin or Metallica. The themes in this book (except for the whole drag part) are universal that anyone that experiences grief and has a love for rock n roll can understand. This book had me laughing, surprised and feeling sorry for Johnny all at once. I can easily say this is one of my favorite fiction books and I recommend it to anyone who loves music and that wants a real look at some of the struggles that come with being a teenager!

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    Not your typical read...

    So, here's the scoop...I am a die-hard Blondie/Debbie Harry fan, so this title struck me as interesting, to say the least. I must say that I typically, am not a reader of fiction, but since I am a Blondie fan, I was compelled to read it. And WOW, what a good read it was! The storyline, from start to finish touched many chords in my life. It is a story of teen angst and acceptance (and haven't we all been there). Johnny didn't exactly know who, or what he was. His dad died when he was in his teens; his mom flipped out; he tried to take care of the both of them, and he just wanted to escape. So, he turned to alcohol and drugs. When he ended up in a recovery program, his life changed! He heard Debbie Harry singing in French and it truly changed his life! I really don't want to tell the whole story, so all I will say is that when you read this book, have an open mind and the characters will grow and prosper as you do. Also, kudos to the author, Meagan Brothers, who also has a wealth of knowledge about Blondie and Debbie Harry. The book actually reads as non-fiction, which I LOVE!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2008

    A reviewer

    Johnny turns to drinking after his dad dies in a car accident. His mother is overcome by grief and isn't much of a mother at all. Johnny takes over the responsibilities of the grocery shopping, paying the bills and caring for his mother the way she should be caring for him. Drinking seems to be the only thing that can relieve the stress. His drinking habits also influence his choice of friends and his appearance. He's used to being called names in his black clothes, black hair, black nails and eyeliner. When Johnny wakes in the hospital from a possible drug overdose, his mom sends him to live with his father's brother, Uncle Sam, in South Carolina. The one thing, well the one person that keeps Johnny on the straight and narrow is Debbie Harry the singer from Blondie. Once Johnny heard her singing in his stay in rehab, he has a slight obsession. He wishes he could be more like her, strong, tough, cool and beautiful. At his new school Johnny meets Maria who also shares in his love of music. He knows he is falling in love with Maria, so why does he want to be Debbie Harry and wear her clothes? Have you heard of Debbie Harry Sings in French? Well, I hadn't and I wasn't sure what to expect. But this novel ended up leaving a strong impression. Johnny's story is very interesting to say the least. This books main theme is a teen trying to find his identity, he doesn't think he is gay, but he likes to feel beautiful and he even wears a dress in one part of the story. Brother's also incorporates a very real and compelling look into homosexuality and transvetism. I couldn't help but feel empathetic. He ends up learning more about his father toward the end of the story and Johnny's musical and artistic style makes more sense. Debbie Harry Sings in French is Meagan Brother's debut novel. I would recommend it to readers who like music and are looking for something fresh and enlightening.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2008

    Highly Recommended

    I'm terrible at writing reviews, but I just finished reading this book and had to tell others. It's wonderful, beautiful, engaging, touching, endearing, funny, honest, strong book about young love, getting to know oneself, and the power of music. Buy it, read it, you won't regret it.

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