Book review: Flamer

Flamer by Mike Curato

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a cute and affecting coming of age story about a pudgy 14-year-old Filipino boy spending his last summer at scouts camp before starting high school.

Author Mike Curato notes the story is fictional but deftly deploys his real life experience going through scouts, setting the story in 1995, the same time he was in scouts. The result is a story filled with lots of authentic details, ranging from the mundane (you’ll learn about a bunch of different knots) to the mildly horrifying (best summed up as “boys will be boys”).

The titular character Aiden grapples with his identity while fighting off accusations of being gay. A few of the boys are openly hostile to him, throwing slurs about his race and orientation. Things come to a head and for a time turn dark for Aiden, but he ultimately finds the strength to be true to himself.

The artwork here, is terrific–the facial expressions often convey more than any words could. The teasing and threats, the quick dismissal of the same, the gangly awkwardness of teenagers, and the effortless cruelty of boys–all of it is captured in a pleasing black and white style that bursts into color when things get hot (symbolism!)

While this feels like a YA graphic novel, its frankness when it comes to sexuality might make for some squeamishness, depending on the sensibilities of the reader. That said, this is a warm, funny and ultimately touching story. Recommended.

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Book review: Less


Less by Andrew Sean Greer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not read a lot of Pulitzer prize-winning novels. In fact, it would be accurate to say I’ve read none.

But the 2018 winner, Less, was on sale and I said to myself, “What price would I pay to read a Pulitzer-winning novel?” And the answer was, “Less!”


This is a funny novel and I mean that in both common definitions of the word. It is breezy and witty, but also a bit odd in how it follows the meandering world-spanning trip of not-quite-self-discovery that Arthur Less, a soon-to-be-50 novelist, undertakes shortly after the story begins. Quirky details are the norm here and the narrator—intruding occasionally to make it clear they are an actual person telling the story, and not an omniscient unknown presence—lovingly describes the hapless Less with both affection and concern as he blunders through France, Morocco, Germany and other locations. Cast in vivid relief in the background is the imminent marriage of his younger lover Freddy, who left Less abruptly.

Less’s trip is stuffed with incidental details, side stories and diversions that somehow always prove interesting, no matter how inconsequential they initially seem, largely thanks to Greer’s droll wit and use of metaphor. Metaphor in the hands of a bad author is like expecting a five year old to whip up a seven course meal, but here Greer wields it like a master chef. Or something like that (I may be a bad writer).

Perhaps the single funniest moment (minor spoiler) is someone telling Less he is a “bad gay,” underscoring just how little he seems to understand others—or even himself.

This story certainly won’t be for everyone. The writing, though funny, is dense and detailed, and speaks of a class and world that many will only ever see from a distance, if at all. But Greer buoys the prose so beautifully, it’s difficult to not recommend, anyway. If you’re looking for an amusing examination of befuddled middle age, Less will give you that—and a little more.

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