Matt’s Weekly Reads, February 11, 2023


Fraternity, Andy Mientus (2022)

It’s 1991 and Zarchary ‘Zooey’ Olson transfers to an elite Massachusetts boarding school, hoping for a new start after scandal drove him out of his last school. But his hopes are dashed when the school bullies notice him right away for all the wrong reasons. He’s quickly taken under the wings of two charismatic peers who are involved in a secret society for queer students, a safe space in a bastion of the most toxic and entitled form of wealthy conservatism. But, the group also happens to dabble in magic, a magic that turns out to be based in powers they can’t control and to have real-world consequences they can’t imagine.

Media in the always-popular ‘high school occult’ subgenre tends to fall in two categories: either dark magic as the driving force behind the current power structure or as the resistance to it. By placing the story within a group queer friends at a private school, Fraternity is able to play creatively — and I would say, effectively — with both sides of these tropes. Beyond this new contribution to what is otherwise well-trod territory, it is also deals with big questions of identity, passing, fathers and sons, and what it means to ‘be a man.’ There’s also a very impactful ‘cameo appearance’ by the AIDS crisis, which helps to ground the story in its time and and place, while elucidating the book’s themes. The author, Andy Mientus, is best-known as an actor, but I really enjoyed this novel, and will look forward to reading more from him.

(Trigger warnings for: homophobia, biphobia, bullying, racism, reparative therapy)

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Identity,
  • Dark Academia
  • Paranormal
  • Magic
  • Secret Societies
  • LGBTQ2S+
  • Bisexual Representation
  • 1990s

My Rating: Premise 10, Atmosphere 10, Main Character(s) 10, Plot 9, Intrigue 10, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 9, Enjoyment 9, Lasting Impact 8: TOTAL 95

Weekly Roundup

The Locked Room (The New York Trilogy 3), Paul Auster (1986), 87: When a man’s childhood best friend disappears, he becomes the custodian of the man’s literary output and ends up falling into his life. As my reviews of City of Glass and Ghosts indicated, what ties this trilogy together are its themes of identity, presence, and absence. Whereas the first two feel like riffs of the same story, The Locked Room approaches these shared themes from a different angle, providing a nice counterpoint to them. (Identity, Presence, Absence, Postmodern Fiction)

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson (1886), 87: A London lawyer becomes increasingly concerned as the connections between an old friend, Dr. Jekyll, and a depraved criminal known as Mr. Hyde grow impossible to ignore. It’s interesting approaching this classic novella now since the big twist is so well-known that it’s become a common metaphor in the English language and therefore there is probably not a single reader today who comes to it ‘clean’. But knowing ‘whodunnit’ from the start doesn’t lessen the impact of this insightful commentary on identity and humanity. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. (Classics, Gothic Literature, Science Fiction, 19th Century, Identity, Personality)

The Lost Stories (Ranger’s Apprentice 11), John Flanagan (2011), 95: This collection of short stories manages to tie up some loose ends in the series (such as two eagerly-anticipated weddings), and answer questions the author had received from fans (such as how Halt joined the Rangers, what happened to Gilan after we last saw him, and, my personal favorite, what happens to Ranger horses when they’re too old to do their jobs). It manages to do this while delivering stories that are very entertaining in their own right. What a perfect end to this delightful series. (Middle Grade, Adventure)

On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957), 67: This fictionalized telling of the author’s days travelling across the United States in the years after the Second World War is the standard text exploring that period’s ‘beat’ counter-culture. If this was the author’s intent, then it’s not clear what he was really trying to do. For he somehow manages to make the counter-culture even less unattractive than the white-picket-fence-suburban conservatism of the dominant post-War culture, which isn’t easy to do for me. So overall, this was an excellent window into an aimless and cynical world I have no real interest in revisiting. (1950s, Road Trip, Roman a Clef, Beat Generation, Counter-Culture, Americana)

Decolonizing Design, Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall (NEW RELEASE, February 14, 2023), 76: I feel like this books was a bit unfortunately named. It was less about ‘decolonizing design’ than it was about decolonizing the design industry, talking as much about hiring practices as about design itself. So, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting or looking for. (I’d been expecting something like a decolonizing version of Invisible Women, showing the ways design in contemporary life fails BIPOC folk and providing ways these issues can be addressed. Obviously, hiring in design is a big part of this, but it was still a little ‘inside baseball’ for this outsider. The author is clearly at the leading edge of this process in her field and I hope she writes more on design itself. (Design, Decolonization, Modernism, Hiring Practices)

Winnie-the-Pooh (Winnie the Pooh 1), A. A. Milne (1926), 91: In this classic collection of children’s short stories, Christopher Robbin and his diverse group of animal friends, led by the titular Pooh Bear, have adventures in Hundred Acre Wood. While I was familiar with many of these stories through their Disney adaptations, this was my first time reading them, and what a delight they were. The writing has that intelligent British wit we associate with the pre-WWII era at its best, which is all the more impressive considering the very young intended audience. I always love children’s literature that doesn’t talk down to kids! (Children’s Literature, Adventure, Talking Animals)

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume (1972), 87: Peter Hatcher is in the fourth grade and life is good — except for having to live with his toddler brother, Fudge, whose ‘terrible twos’ (and threes) come to dominate everything in their home and family life. There is no doubt that Judy Blume was one of the best writers of juvenile fiction ever. She made me feel the righteous indignation of a woe-begotten older sibling deep in my soul here. (Middle Grade, Childhood, Family Life)

Mooncop, Tom Gaul (2016), 90: A cop polices a moon colony in its waning days. This very short graphic novel is a surprisingly poignant and effective exploration of loneliness, companionship, purpose, and the end of things. (Science Fiction, Graphic Novel)

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley (2022), 62: In mid-19th-Century California, when the only justice is vigilante justice, two sex workers team up to solve the mystery of missing women. I have to say I was very disappointed in this. It came highly recommended to me and Smiley is a Pulitzer-winning author. I loved the setup and at the twenty-percent mark, I was all in and excited for what came next. Unfortunately, what came next was a lot of walking around, clues that didn’t seem like clues, and a wholly uninteresting and unsatisfying resolution. Big miss for me. (Mystery, Amateur Detectives, 19th Century History)




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