Desire Lines (1997), by Jack Gantos

Today we have a guest review, by my dear friend Rob Bittner, an academic specializing in GLBTQ literature for children and young adults. I had the pleasure of teaching Rob years ago, and now he has taken off and left me behind. Desire Lines was one of the novels we read for the Directed Studies course he took with me.

Desire Lines

Jack Gantos, an author I greatly admire, especially since reading his Newbery Medal winning novel, Dead End in Norvelt [2011], wrote Desire Lines with a much more disturbing and depressing tone about it, mirroring the time in which it is set, as well as the time in which it was published. This makes the ending of the book sad and frustrating, and also more heartbreaking than many gay and lesbian books that have been written in the 15 years since its publication.

Desire Lines is filled with undesirable characters and tragic consequences. It is a good example of those novels still often used to portray homosexuality not as something necessarily evil, but as something that leads to negative and destructive consequences. Through the eyes of a sexually ambiguous narrator, the story tells of two lesbians who are ratted out to an overly zealous son of a pastor and eventually attempt a murder—suicide. The novel is an ideal example of the ways in which homosexuality and religion can be caricatured.  The religious aspect of the novel is so extreme as to be almost comical at times, if it were not for the fact that it is what leads to the downfall of the queer students in the end.

Gantos, in keeping with his very sarcastic and cynical nature, writes as though he wants to find someone to blame. In the case of Desire Lines he latches on to a very charismatic Christian pastor, giving readers someone to point a finger at. While this may be helpful for some who avoid religion at all costs, I personally find Gantos’ choice unfortunate, and rather than taking an opportunity to break down a barrier, he chooses to reinforce an already bitter, mutually destructive relationship. I cannot say that this is a terrible book, because it is actually well written and contains some interesting and unique perspectives, but for those who wish to read it, keep in mind that the world is changing. (Rob Bittner)

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