Flamer Author Mike Curato By Mike Curato

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. Flamer Author Mike Curato


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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.

A book about a kid, Aidan, who is constantly bullied in middle school for being overweight and because he is identified by these straight boys as gay. So school is not a safe place for him, mostly miserable, but interestingly enough Boy Scout Camp becomes his safe(r) place, where he is lucky enough to be friended by a popular athlete who looks out for him a bit. He's still bullied here, but he also loves the outdoors, all the actvities, the comaraderie. He feels like he has a place here.

The central trope in the book through which to see the action, referreed to in the title is a flame. A flamer might be a troll, a person who burns you with an insult, and whilethe solutions Aidan comes up with to being bullied are not unique--he finds supportive friends, he gets good at what he does--he also finds he can flame back at his bullies with stinging comebacks. Also, he wonders if his actions and thoughts will land him in the flames of Hell, though in the end he comes to embrace the flame of his passions--that which burns inside of him. He's that kind of a flamer, which is a good thing.

This is set in 1995, so the language seems like it is more brutal at that time than it woud be now, but I'm not sure as I live in a large midwestern city where there maybe some greater safety in numbers? And while I still hear some homophobic slurs here still, it seems I hear less than I used ton in the schools (where I regularly am), but I am not viewed and bullied as gay, either, so consider the source.

As someone who was himself a Cub and Boy Scout until it became politically uncool to be involved in a teen organization seemngly associated with the military, yet one who came back to be a scout leader for his sons and fought at a local and national level for the inclusion/recognition of gay leaders in the Boy Scouts, I was really interested in the scouting aspect of the story--both a little proud that camp became a haven for him and yet anguished by his treatment still by some of the boys. This can be a painful story, but it seems to me really important to read and know about. My teenaged kids are reading it. English This beautifully written and bravely honest book needs to be in EVERY library and middle school classroom. As the quote on the cover says—and this is not an overstatement—it will save lives. English A powerful, poignant, read-in-one-sitting masterpiece.
In this darkness we can find an inner light to guide us. And there is light in you, even if you can't see it. English The bullying, homophobia, and racism are pretty unrelenting in this tale of a 14-year-old Filipino American boy coming to terms with his sexual identity during the final days of a Boy Scout summer camp. It ground me down as a reader, and even so I cannot even begin to imagine how much worse it would be to live it.

It's a pretty depressing takedown of how early toxic masculinity is ingrained in our children and of the Boy Scouts in general. It suffers a bit from its inevitability and goes so deep into its tailspin that it is hard for the ending to totally pull it back up from the crash and burn being signaled.

Even though this is a work of fiction, that scene with the four boys and the pop bottle in the tent is so outrageous and gross I have to believe it really happened.

Trigger warning: English This book feels like a love letter to Mike Curato's younger self (though not strictly a memoir). A love letter to any queer kid struggling with their identity in systems like a church or scout troop or school that leaves them alone and confused and full of unwarranted shame. A letter to say, you are loved. You are light. Keep your sacred flame burning. English

I feel uncomfortably seen. Is this what it feels like for straight people every time they read a book or watch a movie? Completely recognized and utterly understood? It’s surreal to realize as an adult how many of my teenage experiences were not unique, because I never saw them represented anywhere.

Parts of FLAMER were hard for me to read, because they felt so personal—which says something about how powerful the narrative is. I’m really, really glad this story exists. English Me before reading: “That blurb says it’s gonna save lives? Seriously?”

Me after reading: “Oh. Okay, yeah.”

This graphic novel reads so deeply personal, it’s impossible not to imagine how many queer kids (especially gay boys) could read it from cover to cover with their hearts in their throats. I will flat-out admit I cried. But it’s so wonderfully hopeful, even with all its brutality, and you just can’t not want every kid who needs it to find it. And maybe some grownups too. English This one is a little hard to review because I'm not the intended audience. I'll be honest though, I was incredibly uncomfortable reading about young teen boys making homophobic jokes, masturbating together in a dark tent (the MC was also very uncomfortable with this) and getting repeated discussions of a 14-year-old boys introduction to porn, masturbation, and sexy dreams. Really not things I want to be thinking about. (Also, it's set in 1995 but that plus the unaddressed rampant bullying makes me wonder if I ever want to send my sons to anything similar?)

That said, I do think this offers a raw and personal look into what it's like to be figuring out your sexuality when you don't fit in with everyone around you, you were raised with conservative religious values, and also feeling ostracized due to racial identity. The main character is at a Boy Scouts camp the summer before high school, slowly recognizing he has a crush on his roommate, and dealing with pretty severe bullying that is never adequately dealt with by camp staff. It's a lot, especially as a graphic novel. But I also imagine there are readers who need this and may feel seen by it and I do think there is value offering own voices narratives that address issues like racism and homophobia. I'm not entirely sure how the 1995 setting (because I don't think everything would be quite the same today) will read for actual teenagers, so I hope we get some own voices teen reviewers of this one. I received an advance copy for review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Content warnings include repeated homophobic jokes and slurs including MANY uses of fa**ot, racist jokes and slurs toward Asian idenity, suicidal ideation, incurred fat-shaming, teen sexuality including masturbation, group masturbation, pornography, sexual dreams. English I don’t have words right now. I just finished it and I’m still crying too much. A review is going to have to wait. But this is one of the most personal, deeply moving and beautiful stories I’ve ever read.

Thank you Mike Curato for writing this. Thank you.

Addition: after a day of thinking about this story and not being able to get it out of my mind for very long, I find myself continually coming back to Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s quote that “This book will save lives.” Truthfully, there is really nothing else that can be added. This is probably the highest praise that any literary work could earn. And it is not probably, or even likely to be true. This book will save lives. Of this I have absolutely no question that this is not hyperbole or exaggeration, but a plain and unadorned statement of fact.

Update: Why can’t I give this book a 10-star review? Because on a 5-star scale this book deserves 10-stars. Even knowing what’s coming and how it’s going to resolve, rereading does not diminish in any way the impact of Aiden’s conflict and this very personal narrative. The art is perfect. The gray tones and the splashes of red, it is a perfect, perfect package. English 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.

Mike Curato's Flamer is a powerful, emotional graphic novel about friendship, self-esteem, sexuality, and the battle between being like everyone else to “fit in” and being yourself. It's about feeling so down, so alone, that you don't know what to do or where to turn.

It's the summer before Aiden is scheduled to start high school. He's nervous about it—as much as he hopes it will be a different experience than middle school, he worries that he'll just be trading one set of bullies for another. He's tired of being teased for everything. In middle school, bullies called him gay, they made fun of his being pudgy, not being particularly athletic, and for being half-Filipino. He hated always having to be on guard, and isn't looking forward to high school for the very same reason.

But now, Aiden is in his happy place: scouting camp. He feels a little more a part of things there, and finds things he's good at, like making and tending to the campfire, helping cook, weaving bracelets, and making people laugh. But this year, there are bullies at camp, too, and it's causing him to doubt himself. And for reasons he doesn't understand, he can't stop thinking about his friend Elias, and it's making things weird for him—and it threatens to ruin their friendship and his whole summer, too.

For a graphic novel, Flamer really packs a punch. It deals with serious issues, such as thoughts of suicide, which are sadly all too common in teenagers, especially those struggling with their identities and sexuality. There is a tremendous amount of emotion, pain, and hope packed into Curato's illustrations and words.

This really was good and it struck a chord with me emotionally. I definitely identified with Aiden in a number of ways. Flamer is based on Curato’s own experiences, and you can feel that connection on every page. It reminded me how beautiful it is to find friends who “get” you, even if it may take longer than you’d hope.

I hope we'll see Aiden again in another book!

I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for this book. Storygram Tours, Fierce Reads, Henry Holt & Company, and Mike Curato provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

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