New Novel Tells Timely Tale of High School Gay-Straight Alliance

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Geography Club, an edgy new young adult novel from HarperCollins, portrays one teen's determined efforts to start a gay-straight alliance at his high school. The book, which has received glowing early industry reviews, taps into heightened media interest on the subject of gay-straight alliances.

In 1989, exactly one American high school had a gay-straight alliance. Now over 1000 high schools do, and many of them are making headlines--lately, in Boyd County, Kentucky, and Klein, Texas, where administrators are desperately trying to shut the clubs down.

Now gay-straight alliances have also found their way into the pages of a book, in the new gay teen novel, Geography Club.

“It’s the story of a group of students who want to form a gay-straight alliance at their high school,” said author Brent Hartinger. “Problem is, they don’t want anyone to know they’re gay. So they disguise the true nature of their club--and discourage anyone else from joining it--by giving it the most boring name they can think of: the Geography Club. Unfortunately, their disguise doesn’t last.”

Hartinger’s novel is getting a much warmer reception than those gay-straight alliances in Kentucky and Texas. Advance sales have been “terrific,” said Steve Fraser, Hartinger’s editor at HarperCollins, the publisher of the book.

“There’s already been interest in the foreign rights, and in the movie rights too,” Fraser said.

“HarperCollins has been unbelievably supportive,” Hartinger said, pointing out that the publisher has already bought a Geography Club sequel, The Order of the Poison Oak, and two of the writer’s other novels.

“That’s four books,” Hartinger said in amazement. “And that was before Geography Club had even been released!”

Early industry reviews have been consistently positive. The Journal for the Center for Children’s Books called the book “a lively and compelling story” and praised its “heart-palpitating romance” and “witty writing.” Horn Book Magazine called Geography Club’s narration “pitch-perfect,” and said, “This is the most artful and authentic depiction of a gay teen since M. E. Kerr’s groundbreaking Charlie Gilhooly in I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me.”

“Everything has worked out so well for this book,” Hartinger said. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

With all the attention being paid to gay-straight alliances in high schools across the country, the timing for the book couldn’t seem to be better.    

“I wish I could say it was because of some brilliant marketing strategy on my part,” Hartinger said. “But the truth is, it’s just a coincidence. In fact, I didn‘t even want to write the book, because I was convinced no publisher would ever buy it.”

Hartinger said he was discouraged by the reaction to his first gay young adult book, which he wrote back in the early 1990s.

“It won a couple of major writing awards,” he said. “But the reaction among New York publishers was indifference bordering on outright hostility. One editor told me outright that there was absolutely no market for a book about gay teens. If it hadn‘t been for my agent--a straight woman--I never would have written another gay teen book. She talked me into writing Geography Club, because she was convinced that the times had changed, and that the world was finally ready for just such a book.”

“It’s partly good timing,” said Hartinger’s agent, Jennifer DeChiara, explaining the early success of the novel. “But I give most of the credit to the book itself. I mean, this book has everything. Humor, romance, passion. I spend all day reading manuscripts, and I know a page-turner when I read one.”

For his part, Hartinger is just glad the book is drawing still more attention to the subject of gay-straight alliances.

“I think most adults have no idea what gay high school kids go through,” said Hartinger, who helped found a gay-support organization in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington, and who currently acts as an advisor to a gay-straight alliance at his old high school.

“I think sometimes even some of us adult gay men and women forget,” he said. “We move to the big cities and start to think that the whole world is gay-tolerant. Hopefully, my book will remind people that some of the most courageous heroes in the gay rights struggle are still in their teens.”

For more information about Geography Club, visit “Brent’s Brain,” Hartinger’s website, at http://www.brenthartinger.com.

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