Genre | YA Graphic Novel
Page #s | 368
Publishing Date | September 2020
Award-winning author and artist Mike Curato draws on his own experiences in Flamer, his debut graphic novel, telling a difficult story with humor, compassion, and love.
I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.
I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.
It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.
Using spare colors with an inviting cartoon aesthetic, Curato has created a beautiful graphic novel about a young boy on the cusp of adolescence who struggles to accept his attraction to boys during a Boy Scouts summer camp. Occasionally haunting but ultimately uplifting, I adored this book and want everyone to read it.
This is Aiden’s last summer before high school, and he wants his camp experience to be a fun, safe space for him to be fully himself. Unfortunately, he is at camp with a bunch of boys, and they throw insults and gay slurs at each other with abandon. Curato captures these microaggressions with nuance, showing how they hit differently for someone who worries he actually IS gay while also showing how good it can feel to turn the tables and call a bully a f*****.
Although this is a quick read, the length of the novel allows us to get a full sense of Aiden’s life. The main action takes place during summer camp, but we get flashbacks to his family, his school, and his church that better inform what he is experiencing in the present day as he participates in orienteering, archery, and basket weaving.
Aiden is such a cute boy who can’t, and doesn’t want to, hide his feminine side despite being very in the closet when it comes to accepting his attraction to bunkmate Elias. Every night he dreams of the two of them together. These were my favorite sections of the book, as he imagines the pair of them as Frodo and Sam or Wolverine and Jean Grey, in an adorable fantasy that increasingly turns dark as he tries to push the feelings aside.
The story culminates in a dark moment that might be triggering for some readers, though the scene is handled with care. The fires that Aiden worries will engulf himself ultimately manifest as his own life energy, a fire full of strength and vitality that cannot be put out. It’s a lovely book, drawn with skill and passion, that should be on the shelf of every school library.
Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
It’s great for readers of all ages, but this is a book to prioritize giving to young queer kids who will see themselves in Aiden.
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Find more books nominated for Lambda Literary Awards reviewed here.