Before transitioning from a private Catholic middle school to a public high school, Aiden Navarro, 14, wants to enjoy Boy Scout summer camp. As in school, however, Aiden can’t escape the things he’s so often been bullied for: his weight, his Filipino heritage, and his effeminate voice. He endures relentless taunts rooted in toxic masculinity from his camp peers for these things and the way he always seems to act differently than others—in one memorable moment, Aiden spontaneously riffs a Valley girl rendition of a campfire song. As Aiden feels true friendship with pen pal Violet and explores his growing feelings for tentmate Elias (“Gay boys like other boys. I HATE boys. They’re mean,” Aiden asserts) and his religious upbringing, his sense of isolation compounds. Through straightforward, thick-lined art, Curato interweaves surrealistic, emotionally charged moments, as when Aiden’s emotionally abusive father assails his family as a large talking head. Throughout the story, the color red coalesces around fires literal and figurative, as when a camper pushes Aiden to a point of volcanic rage. Emotional and raw, Curato’s story plummets Aiden deep into despair, including suicidal ideation, juxtaposing powerful moments of burning, fiery hope. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, the Book Group. (Sept.)
"This book will save lives." —Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of National Book Award Finalist Hey, Kiddo
“[Mike Curato] knows [boys] like Judy Blume knows a teenaged girl, and that's quite a bit.” —NPR
"This is a story that will be read and reread, and for some, it will be the defining book of their adolescence." — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Masterfully nuanced and stunningly told, this is visual storytelling at its finest." —Booklist, starred review
"Curato has created a beautiful story of a teen who must decide if he will force himself into the mold of what he thinks a “normal” boy is, or if he can allow himself to live life on his own terms. An essential book that shows readers that they are never alone in their struggles." —School Library Journal, starred review
"Cleverly inked and masterfully told . . . . Both heartbreaking and joyous, Flamer acknowledges the brutal weight of hatred, yet inspires the courage to live." —Shelf Awareness, starred review
"I wish I had had this book fifty years ago." —The Horn Book, starred review
"Emotional and raw." —Publishers Weekly
Gr 8 Up—As Boy Scout camp draws to a close and high school looms, 14-year-old Aiden Navarro, who is biracial (white and Filipino), is on high alert. Feeling self-conscious about his weight, dealing with racism from other campers, and wondering about his sexuality, he often takes preemptive action to appear unimpeachably heterosexual and unconvincingly attempts to imitate the homophobic, macho behavior of other campers—though his thoughtfulness usually wins out. Aiden's precarious balancing of identities pushed upon him and those he tries to hide starts to crumble when he begins to fantasize romantically about his tentmate Elias, a steadfast summer friend who has been unfazed by other campers' gossip about Aiden being gay. As Aiden heads into the last days of camp, his desire, self-loathing, and uncertainty come to a boiling point. Curato's incredible art conveys Aiden's point of view, his thoughts, and his reimaginings of his physical form with compelling beauty and empathy. The drawing style feels specific to a teen's world, spare yet filled with distinct characters and an idyllic camp setting. Most images are in shades of black and gray, which makes the appearance of fire in Aiden's dreams and fantasies—in hues of red, yellow, and orange, signifying his passion, rage, desire, and shame—even more poignant as more light is shed on his true self. VERDICT Curato has created a beautiful story of a teen who must decide if he will force himself into the mold of what he thinks a "normal" boy is, or if he can allow himself to live life on his own terms. An essential book that shows readers that they are never alone in their struggles.—Jennie Law, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta
The last week at Scouting camp highlights accomplishments and humiliations that last a lifetime.
Aiden, a fat, biracial (Filipino and white), soon-to-be high schooler, is in his last week of Boy Scout camp in 1995. Each day documents events, from bonding over fireside songs and learning important skills to the micro- and macroaggressions that follow an adolescent boy of color who presents as effeminate and is queer. As the week moves on, readers learn more about Aiden and his life, from his stressful home with an emotionally abusive father to his love of Catholicism and being an altar server. The stress of a new school, bullies who are ever present, and struggles with identity drive Aiden to a breaking point, one that’s familiar to many young people. The monochromatic illustrations, sometimes highlighted with red, orange, and yellow, are timeless moments of a remembered childhood. The use of red to highlight the tangible (firelight, a Swiss Army knife) and represent the intangible (passion, sorrow, and hope) is a master class in simplicity. But the true star of this book is the writing, which describes a boy who could live in any decade on his journey of self-discovery. This is a story that will be read and reread, and for some, it will be the defining book of their adolescence.
Buy it. Read it. Share it. (afterword, resources) (Graphic fiction. 12-18)