About the Book
Title: Option Four
Author: Jon Eliot Keane
Published: 25th May, 2017
Publisher: Beaten Track
ISBN: Paperback ISBN: 978 1 78645 126 2
eBook ISBN: 978 1 78645 127 9
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT, Drama, Romance and Relationships, Contemporary Fiction
It’s 1997, and seventeen-year-old Donn Carhart wants to come out. There are four ways it could go: reject, tolerate, accept, or they’ll say ‘me too!’
But his parents don’t like gay people, and he doesn’t know any other gay kids.
After meeting Alex, an openly gay transfer student, and learning a little bit about gay history in the United States, Donn starts the Acceptance Project club at school. The club is about addressing discrimination, and it draws a lot of student members, including Thad – the most popular guy in his class, who just so happens to be Donn’s crush.
After Donn comes out, a group of parents try to shut it down as a ‘gay club’ – a danger to their children and the community. With his family, community, and classmates pushing back on his decisions, will Donn push forward or will he opt out?
This is an excellent first novel. It’s young adult fiction, and as such, I’m going to focus on that aspect. I’m not the book’s target audience.
Too often, YA fiction makes the mistake of treating readers as either older or younger than they really are, especially when it comes to LGBT fiction. This book makes neither of these errors. What I love about Donn, and hope that other readers will too, is that he feels exactly right for a young man coming of age. He’s entirely likable even when he’s making mistakes. Donn feels real, especially when he’s fumbling over his words or getting ahead of himself in telling his story.
There are so many sweet, funny, and charming moments in the story. Donn has a lot on his plate, between coming out, having his first boyfriend, and balancing his budding activism with his relationships. There’s also a lot of heartache, and many serious issues come up in the book. The students at the core of the Acceptance Project bring to light more than just homophobia, but not in a heavy-handed way. This isn’t by any stretch an “educational” book, which I think would put readers off. Hopefully the understated, gentle way these issues are raised in the story will encourage readers to look into those things further.
Without giving spoilers, I will say that I was glad to see a bisexual character. That said, this read just a little to me like it wanted to be “gay for you” and ended up being a bisexual character instead. That reads a bit flat and like a throwaway line. However, having perfect representation is not possible, and it isn’t terrible By no means is it entirely bad characterization. It felt more like an incomplete understanding, and some of that is the result of first-person narration by someone other than the bi character.
There were two other things that made me pause. One is that I’m not sure if today’s youth will be able to entirely relate to it due to the setting. The story takes place 20 years ago, and there are some ways in which that shows. On the other hand, it does help for young people to understand our history and how things were for past generations. The other thing that I found puzzling was that in the club, which was about acceptance and various forms of discrimination, the club officers were all boys. There’s overt sexist language addressed in the story, but not the far more common ways girls are undermined (like not allowing them leadership).
I would feel comfortable giving this book to readers ages 13 and up. Although there is nothing I would label “mature content” in the story, I think the themes (in particular the couple of violent incidences, which are not described in detail) might be harder for younger readers to process through.
For likable characters, good work with social justice issues, and a compelling plot, this gets 8/10 fountain pens.
About the Author
Website: Jon Eliot Keane on Facebook
Jon Eliot Keane studies people for a living. Sometimes, he writes about them too. He and his husband are owned by an obstreperous tortoiseshell cat, collect books and odd knickknacks, and make their home in Southern California near Los Angeles. Option Four is his first fiction publication.