I know God doesn't make mistakes, and if I'm gay it's because that's what he wanted. What you wanted. And I think the challenge is to get everyone else to see that. This is their test, not mine.
If only Taylor Adams had kept on lying to his parents, none of this would have happened. He wouldn't have been shipped off to Straight to God, an institution devoted to "deprogramming" troubled teenagers and ridding them of their vices--whether it's drugs, violence, or in Taylor's case, other boys. Not that Taylor has a problem with being gay, or with reconciling his love for God with his love for his boyfriend Will. . .
At Straight to God, such thoughts--along with all other reminders of Taylor's former "sinful" life--are forbidden. Every movement is monitored, privacy is impossible, and no one--from staff to residents--is quite who they first appear to be. There's Charles, Taylor's clean-cut roommate, desperate to leave his past behind. . .Nate Devlin, a handsome, inscrutable older boy who's alternately arrogant and kind. . . gorgeous, secretive Sean, who returns to Straight to God each year to avoid doing prison time for drugs. Here, where piety can be a mask for cruelty and the greatest crimes go unpunished, Taylor will learn more than he ever dreamed about love, courage, rebellion, and betrayal--but the most surprising lessons will be the truths he uncovers about himself.
In this smart, insightful new novel, Robin Reardon presents a compelling exploration of the journey from boy to man, and a testament to the strength that comes with accepting both who we are, and who we love. . .
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By Robin Reardon KENSINGTON BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
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Chapter One He strictly warned him, and immediately sent him out, and said to him, "See you say nothing to anybody, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them." -Mark 1:43
It's the end of the second day. Almost. And there's only ... counting, counting ... only forty more to go.
That's going to seem as long to me as it must have to Noah. And for me it'll be only forty if I'm lucky. If I behave.
I wish I knew the best approach to take. Should I play along and let them think I've drunk the Kool-Aid, or are they smarter than I am? They've done this before. I haven't. Would it be a better plan to do my damnedest-oops, not supposed to use words like that!-to get expelled, or whatever the term is?
Maybe I should look that section up again. Where the hell-more demerits-is that booklet? I mean, Booklet? Ha. It's not like it'll get lost in my other stuff. I mean, there ain't no "other stuff." I can't have any of it here. My cell phone, my iPod, even a wire-bound notebook is forbidden. No keeping of journals here. I remember that one. But what about getting expelled?
Here's the stupid thing. Let's see.... Temperance. Cleanliness. Program Rules.... Ah-Violation Consequences. According to this-and I'm not making these capital letters up-my punishments can go up on a scale from Public Apologies for what I'd done wrong, to some number of SafeZone days when I can't talk, to having to Write a Three Thousand Word Paper About My Offences, to Expulsion, to Isolation from the Group.
Isolation is worse than Expulsion? Is that what they think? Don't they know I'm used to isolation?
Expulsion. I could do that.
But then what? Dad said it would be military school for me if I don't finish here. I didn't even know they still had places like that, but Dr. Strickland had all the info Dad could want.
Back to the forty days, then. And all because I was honest.
That part really kills me, you know? I mean, if I hadn't told them they'd never have known. But they kept bugging me, and I had to keep lying. Jesus hates lies.
It was, "Taylor, why don't you want to go to your own junior prom?"
And then when I did, it was, "Taylor, why don't you ever ask that nice girl Rhonda out any more?"
Then when I told them Rhonda was nice but she wasn't my type after all, it was, "Taylor, the Russells are bringing Angela when they come over for dinner tonight. Why don't the two of you plan to go for a walk afterward?"
Then, when they'd about given up, "Taylor, isn't there anyone you're interested in?"
Yeah. There is. His name is Will.
So I told them. I'd tried so hard not to, 'cause I knew they'd freak. And I was still working my way through the Bible concordance, looking for all the references to homosexuality, and men lying with men, stuff like that, so none of it would surprise me. So I could arm myself.
The Bible is one thing I'm allowed to have in here, so I can continue my research. But I can't take notes. And just reading some of those sexual references makes me think of Will.
My Will. Brown hair with spiky, bleached ends. And that impish grin, sliding up slowly from the left side of his mouth and making me wonder what he's thinking. Leather thong around his neck, another on his wrist. Silver chain draped between front and back left pockets of his scuffed black jeans. Golden hairs on his forearms, catching sunlight. Sweet, smooth skin on the undersides of his arms. Sweeter, softer skin on his lips.
The first time I ever saw him I knew he was special. His family had moved from out-of-state just last summer, and I saw him at church first, the week before school started-my junior year. He was sitting on the other side of the center aisle, a little ahead of me, between his two younger sisters, keeping them from talking and whatever else girls do when they don't care about causing a scene. Or when they actually want to attract everyone's attention. They looked maybe eleven and ten, something like that, and he ... well, he looked older than me, and so, so gorgeous.
I'd figured out at the end of sophomore year that I was gay. It hit me like a ton of bricks when my friend Jim and I decided to celebrate the end of school by skinny-dipping in his folks' pool really late one night. I had stayed over, which I'd done a few times, sleeping in the other twin bed in his room. When the alarm went off a couple of hours after midnight, it was hard to get up, but he flicked on a small bedside light and swung his legs over the bed. He had nothing on. This was hardly the first time I'd seen him, but something about it being the dead of night, and the way the shadows were falling on his crotch, and maybe the fact that he'd been asleep-let's just say I woke up pretty quick then.
We wrapped towels around our middles and tiptoed through the house, trying not to giggle and wanting to at the same time, bumping into each other with an elbow, a forearm, a shoulder. I remember being keenly aware of the terrycloth rubbing against my dick, which was getting harder by the nanosecond.
It deflated in the cold water, but then Jim and I started horsing around. And touching. And holding each other under the water. That sort of thing. Once I grabbed his dick by accident, and he laughed and pulled away. I think now that it was a nervous laugh, but not one that really meant anything. The next time I grabbed him there, it was no accident. And he didn't laugh.
"Hey!" He tried to keep his voice a loud whisper, but he was upset. "What the fuck do you think you're doing? You some kind of faggot or something?"
Think fast, Taylor.... "What're you, crazy? It's dark, in case you hadn't noticed. You think I want to touch your freakin' dick?"
It sure threw some, uh, cold water on the festivities for the night. Needless to say, I was not invited back for another overnight. And maybe needless to say-but I'll say it anyway-what I'd felt, reaching out underwater for my friend's penis, hoping against hope he'd reach for mine, praying against everything I'd ever been taught that we might even go on from there, stayed with me through the rest of that summer. It might not be too much to say I thought of it all the time. It was, to quote Mr. Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times. (Get it? Dickens? LOL!) A time I never want to live through again, and a time I wouldn't give up for anything. Well, maybe for some things....
But as for my supposed friendship with Jim? Well, some friendship that turned out to be. He dropped me like I'd come down with leprosy. After that night, every time I saw him I felt like I'd put my shirt on over a sign that said UNCLEAN. Like I'd stuffed tissues into the little bell I was supposed to be ringing. You know the one? In the Bible, the bells warned the Godly when a leper was approaching. That's what he made me feel like.
If I'm fair, though, I might have to admit that it would have been tough after that. I mean, just being friends. Imagining things from his side, it might be like he suddenly found out a person he thought he knew really well actually came from outer space. Or that I was a girl, and not a boy like him at all. Because, really, even though I'm not a girl, in one very important way I'm not a boy like him. And I wanted him the way a girl would. And since he's not gay, that might have felt too weird to deal with.
I wish we could have gotten over that, though. I wish I hadn't lost a friend by just being myself.
Anyway, back to that day in church. After noticing how gorgeous Will was, sitting in that pew between his two stupid sisters, what I noticed was how well he handled them. He never seemed to lose patience. Sometimes he held one sister's hand in each of his, and sometimes he joined their hands and held them in both of his, and sometimes he wrapped an arm around each of their necks and kind of hugged them. Eventually it dawned on me that what the girls wanted wasn't everyone's attention. They wanted his.
And amazingly he also seemed to be paying attention to the service. Which was something I was trying to do, except he was so distracting. But it's important to me, you know? I mean, church. God. Jesus. Sure, I swear more than I should. Sure, I do things I shouldn't. But I love God. And I know God loves me. And seeing Will, gorgeous, a loving brother, taking God seriously-it stuck with me.
Once school started he turned up in my World History class, and I found out that he wasn't older than me after all and that his last name was Martin. History isn't one of my favorite subjects, but I do okay. But Will? He knew so much. He hardly ever volunteered, but one time the teacher called on him for something really obscure no one else knew, and he knew it. After that, kids started turning to him kind of facetiously whenever the teacher asked them something they didn't know. He always kept his eyes to the front and wouldn't say anything unless the teacher called his name, but when she did he always knew.
And then one day the question was if anyone knew something very interesting about the personal life of Richard the Lionheart of England. She called on me. I didn't have a clue. So I turned in my seat and looked at Will. And he was looking at me. Not at the front of the room. At me.
"Taylor, are you admitting defeat?" the teacher asked, a kind of tongue-in-cheek sound to her voice. Eyes still on Will's face, I nodded. She said, "Very well. Will, do you know this one as well?"
Still looking at me. He was still looking right at me. "He was gay."
This brought a hoot of laughter from a few of the guys in the class. Ted, a bit of a bully who'd terrorized me in elementary school, shouted, "How do you know that, Mr. Genius? You one, too?" And he laughed louder.
In a way, this scared me. I mean, all a guy has to do is point out that some historical figure was gay, and all of a sudden the kid is, too? Would it be easy for bullies to pick me out as gay? But then I considered Ted. Socially, he was a total moron, with about as much sensitivity as a sloth, and about as smart. And he was probably looking for something-anything-to throw at Will, because Will was so obviously more interesting, and more appealing, and more intelligent than Ted. Plus, he was new. So any stone would have done, but "gay" was the one that came to his hand, and he threw it.
Will turned to look at Ted and waited patiently until the laughter subsided, waited through the teacher saying, "That's enough, class." He kept looking right at Ted until the room was quiet enough to hear him say, "Would you dare make fun of King Richard? He'd have carved you up with one hand tied behind his back and fed you to his dogs."
Will turned back to the front and said nothing else, but what hung in the air unsaid was, "Don't fuck with me. Gay or straight, don't fuck with me."
The teacher did what she could to smooth things over, and actually the perspective she gave on being gay so long ago was pretty cool. She went into a lot of less memorable stuff, like how Richard married to bring more land to England's empire. But what I focused on was more personal.
She said, "Will is correct about King Richard, also known as Coeur de Lion, although the word Will used would not have been one the people of that time would have recognized. We're talking about twelfth-century England. The word homosexual wasn't even a word until the late nineteenth century, and the word gay came after that.
"You see, few people in the Middle Ages had the luxury of marrying for love, and most-even royalty-married out of sheer necessity. Richard himself married for his kingdom's gain. But Richard spent almost no time with his queen, Berengaria of Navarre, and they had no children. Although he was rumored to have at least one illegitimate son, he was known to have multiple liaisons with men. Most of his time was spent fighting in the Crusades or leading battles over land in what is now France. He was the archetype of the medieval warrior king-noble and fierce-and he was known as the Lionheart because of his legendary courage."
Take that, Ted, I was thinking. But as usual, he made a bad joke out of it. "Maybe he spent all that time fighting in battles 'cause he liked hanging out with the guys!"
Ted Tanner. Boy genius. More like AOB. Or, for anyone who doesn't know IM lingo, Abuse Of Bandwidth. But I'm not supposed to be using that in here. In my incarceration. Another demerit, then.
After that I sometimes heard kids talk about Will and speculate, but no one-not even Ted-had the guts to say anything to him directly about it, and all of a sudden lots of girls were interested in him. Then the talk of him being gay dropped, 'cause he started spending time with these girls. So I figured he hadn't really noticed me the way I'd hoped. But I also decided he was a terrific guy; he'd drawn the fire that day in class and had carved Ted up with one proverbial hand tied behind him.
Then one day in early November, right before a big exam in World History, I was on my way out of study hall when suddenly Will was walking next to me.
"Big test coming up. You ready for it?"
It seemed like more than a casual question, so I looked at his face. There was definitely something more there. I said, "Not sure. You?"
"Might help to study with someone. Might help both of us." He waited.
"I suppose it might. Got something in mind?"
He came over to my house after dinner that night, and we went up to my room after I'd introduced him to my parents. They were all for studying, and they had no reason to think Will and I were all for anything other than studying.
We did study, actually. A little. Eventually. I'd never really made out with a girl before. Will, it seemed, had probably made out with lots of people. That night, for the first time, I made out with a boy. And unlike my old friend Jim, Will liked my hand on him.
And man, I wanted my hand on him. But I wasn't gonna do anything right away, even if I'd had a real clue what to do. For one thing, I thought Will was a pretty special guy, and if he wasn't gay, then I didn't want to blow things the way I had with Jim. So I just walked into the room and started toward my desk. He came in behind me. And he shut the door.
I heard the click and turned, and he was just standing there with his hand still on the knob, looking at me, his head tilted a little like he was asking a question he already knew the answer to. I set down the notebook I'd just picked up, and I guess that was enough of a sign for him. He stepped right over to me, stopping when there was about an inch between us, and put his hands on my shoulders.
My arms went around him so fast, and so without any thought, that it was like some puppet master had yanked on them. It was everything I could do not to wrap my legs around him as well. There was this invisible cord pulling us together. Pulling on our mouths. Pulling on our hearts. Pulling on our ... well, let's just say we had matching lumps in our pants.
His hands came up to my face, his tongue went into my mouth, and when he started rubbing his lumpy pants crotch against mine, my knees went out from under me. He followed me to the floor, laughing softly, and then he was in my mouth again.
In romantic scenes you see, like in the movies, they often show the lovers taking each others' clothes off, like that's supposed to be making things more fun. But-hell, I didn't want fun. And neither did Will. We took the short route and each unfastened our own jeans as quickly as we could. I don't know if it comes from being a teenager, or being gay, or being a gay teenager, but I didn't have time for a sexual tease. I just wanted sex. And, in particular, sex with Will.
Somehow he managed to reach for the box of tissues on my desk, and we needed them almost immediately. I came in his hand, and he came in mine.
I wish I could describe, better than I can, how I felt after that. All I can say is, there was some voice in the back of my head trying to tell me how evil I was, how much I was hurting my immortal soul and Will's. It was trying to sneak in there with Bible verses about homosexuals not being able to enter the Kingdom of God. Or about how the law was made because of immoral people, like homosexuals and others who behave in ways contrary to nature. Or verses that put men lying with men in the same category as having sex with animals, or committing adultery, or sacrificing your children. But I could barely hear that voice, try as it might to break through, because of the one that was screaming, "Yes! Oh God oh God oh God. Yes!"
Excerpted from Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon Copyright © 2008 by Robin Reardon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Robin Reardon does an excellent job with a touchy topic. Though the idea is not unique (a gay teen is sent to a Christian program for ‘troubled teens’), the fact that Taylor, the 16-year-old protagonist, is a Christian who acknowledges that the Bible states homosexuality is wrong but still believes that God created him that way. He is sent to Straight to God, where he wrestles with Authority, rules, and trying to discern whether he can trust the other program participants. The climax will blow your mind (though the ending was expected). Reardon is quite talented, creating characters you’ll love and characters you’ll hate. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll cheer. And if you’re like me, you’ll be highlighting quotes throughout the book as well.
Robin Reardon is an inspiring author and advocate for the LGBT community! Fantastic!
great book, will make you think and question. also pulls you in and makes you really visualize the story as if you are apart of it, I highly recommend it its a quick read, but Reardon really gets the point across and leaves you wanting more I'm definatly a fan now and cant wait for more from this author.
One of the best GLBT literature books I've read. It has some sex, but not too much like most other books. It has a lot of twists and turns, and if you love reading, you will love going with Taylor through his own personal hell adventure.
This book is an amazing read. It has some very interesting theology used both in the pre text as well as within the story. It is captivating, sexy in a very unique way, and always shifting directions. There is an unfortunate cliche woven into the story, but this should not deter anyone from readin it.
Robin Reardon has created a touching, motivational and inspirational piece of literature. The story will touch the lives of anyone who opens this book's cover. As a coming-out gay youth, this book has truly risen my spirits and has given me such a different view on the world I live in. Whether gay, straight, pink, or purple, you will enjoy this piece of work and take from it what it has to offer.
This narrative was one of the most touching pieces of gay-themed fiction I've read in years. Our narrator Taylor has just 'outed' himself to his parents, and ends up as a pseudo-inmate at a Christian 're-programming' camp. Rather than use this review to argue the merits of choice versus biology, I was fascinated by Taylor's acceptance of himself as a human being, and more importantly, as a child of God. A powerfully inspirational book.