Queer Books with Julie: The Queerling Creates a Bisexual Character I Can Relate To
16-year-old Preston Nesbitt has a rare form of Asperger’s Syndrome. He is by all accounts a genius. And by some (most?) accounts a pain in the ass. His vocabulary is prolific and occasionally bombastic. His mind is constantly on, functioning at a much higher level than his peers. When he refuses to acknowledge his part in a YouTube video gone viral, he is hospitalized at The Healing Center and assigned by his therapist and “self-appointed savior” Dr. Thomas van Ittersum to keep a journal–or as Preston sees it–to perform “introspective regurgitation.”
Preston pours his thoughts into the journal he calls, “Quips & Quotes from The Queerling.” He is weird, sarcastic, bitter, funny, and sometimes aggravating. In The Queerling, Austin Gary has created an unforgettable character that “doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t drop the occasional F-bomb” and whose commentary on society’s ills, including his condemnation of the over-medication of young people, is spot on:
“No wonder long-term patients become lifers. Just like the “lonely madness” of solitary confinement, this system is designed to turn me into the very thing you’ve always believed me to be.”
Preston’s journal, his attempt to convince the doctor and his parents that he is not insane, is more than just a personal diary. Through Preston’s musings, Mr. Gary explores, among other things, the nature of reality, the significance of dreams and memories, and queerness as more than simply sexual identity. Preston, dubbed the “Queerling” by his peers in group therapy, speaks for the queer in all of us.
As a reviewer, my task is to maintain some objectivity, assess a work on its merits, and provide enough commentary to entice, or dissuade as the case might be, a potential reader to the book. And for much of Austin Gary’s The Queerling, I read with a measure of that kind of detachment. I knew that I would recommend it, that my review would be favorable, and that it would perhaps persuade my audience to read the novel.
But then along came Preston’s journal entry on queerness:
“I’ve responded intimately and intellectually to both sexes for as long as I can remember. I was born that way…not a choice. I have little concern for the packaging, only whether or not the person’s intelligent, kind, caring and how we connect, energetically.”
The particular entry goes on to discuss the “uals,” (homosexual, bisexual, asexual, transsexual)” and the way in which labels confine us. I lost my objectivity, and my favorable review has turned into a “BRAVO!” I am a reviewer who can be objective. But I am also a bisexual reader who struggles to find characters who reflect ME.
Before I started reading The Queerling, I was leery when I read a review calling the epilogue “mind-blowing.” But it is. I highly recommend the entire novel, but it’s worth reading for the discussion on queerness and the conclusion alone. Thank you, Mr. Gary. For writing a book that has more than just a little piece of “ME” in it. I suspect other readers will feel the same. It was an F-ing good book. I don’t trust people who don’t drop the occasional F-bomb, either.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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