Other Boys by Damian Alexander. First Second, 2021. 9781250222817
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? In this graphic novel memoir, 7th grader Damian starts at a new school, experiences bullying and selective mutism, and struggles to understand his queer identity. Damian’s father murdered his mother when he was just a baby and he and his brother are now being raised by their grandparents. Although the book is set in middle school, much of it is told through flashbacks. The younger Damian befriended girls, loved to play with dolls, and was the victim of physical and emotional abuse from his peers. As a result, he’s a loner, who loses himself in drawing, reading, imaginative play, and eventually video games. Although his grandmother loves and supports Damian, even she finds herself uncomfortable with his “girlish” pastimes. Eventually a school social worker gets him to start talking and helps him normalize his sexual orientation. Quite a bit of the novel is told through text, as Damian thinks and addresses the audience directly, with the occasional talk bubble as he communicates with others or when he’s being teased and bullied. The artwork was colorful and literal, and the main character is easy to pick out, even as he ages from a toddler to a tween. Occasional humorous asides help to inject some levity into what is a pretty sad story. I did appreciate the book’s honesty in confronting and highlighting gender norms and how adult prejudices negatively impact children’s behavior.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I found the storytelling with the flashbacks/flashforwards awkward and occasionally hard to follow. Although the story is set in the past (Cabbage Patch dolls were a dead giveaway for me) students may not realize that Damian’s living in the 80s and are likely to find the unrelenting abuse and indifference (especially from teachers) puzzling. I was unsure about Damian’s decision to stop talking and was concerned that this might come across as simplistic for someone experiencing selective mutism.
To whom would you recommend this book? Middle school readers who gobble down graphic memoirs, especially fans of Raina Telgemeier, Svetlana Chmakova, Kayla Miller, and Shannon Hale. With the domestic violence and plus the bullying strands, it’s darker than these but also covers unexplored topics. The author/artist is a Boston native.
Who should buy this book? Middle school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: September 12, 2021