Peter - Kate Walker
A Young Adult novel from Australia that tackles the difficult questions about adolescent identity, masculinity and sexual confusion. Though it covers well trodden ground it’s a refreshing take because, while simple and matter-of-fact, the writing is compassionate and understanding about things that seem vitally important at age 15 wherever you are.
What impressed me most was Walker’s refusal to give easy answers- or even to pretend there IS an answer- when it comes to sexuality.
15 is young. Yes, some people KNOW at that age how they feel and that makes one aspect of growing up a little easier. Some are confused or just not ready. Peer pressure is put on them to experiment because apparently everyone else is- we adults know most of this is talk. A boy can have sex with a girl but it doesn’t make him straight, or with another boy without meaning he’s gay. Curiosity is part of finding out who you are and what works for you. It’s all a bit more complicated than the neat labels that put people into boxes marked A or B.
Peter is a typical teenage boy torn by trying to please everyone. His liberal mother who wants a sensitive son in touch with his feelings, i.e. not like his macho homophobic overbearing dad (they’re divorced). Big brother Vince who means well but has no idea what Peter is going through because they’re so different. The gang of boys Peter hangs around with including Tony his boastful best friend and the tough nuts who ride bikes in the local waste ground, all attitude and hormones, quick to pounce on anyone who shows signs of weakness- which of course means they’re ‘queer’, a ‘poofter’.
Peter likes talking to girls, though he’s scared by them. When Tony arranges a double date Peter has a bad experience that dents his confidence even more, when he’s not interested in a kiss. A bit of playground bullying escalates when Peter is egged on to prove he’s a man. Comforted after the fight by his brother’s best friend David who happens to be gay, Peter feels he’s found the place he always wanted to be, safe and cared for. This terrifies him, the idea he’s like David, one of ‘them’, gay.
It’s 1991. Peter thinks bad things happen if you’re gay- AIDS, ostracism, shame, fear. He <b>knows</b> his father will hate him and his mother smother him in understanding. David proves the perfect teacher but not in the way Peter expects.
Maybe there isn’t such a need for books like this in 2006 when kids are more aware and gay issues out in the open, with positive role models and better sex education, but the honesty with which the story is told in Peter’s believable teenage voice will strike a chord with many readers. The Australian setting makes it different from the usual US set type of book about self-discovery and growing up. Macho chauvinist culture only makes it harder for sensitive boys like Peter to accept who they are.
The end offers no set resolution but that felt real to me and not at all a weakness. Yes it’s all a little simplified and some things happen rather too easily, but this IS a YA novel I have no hesitation recommending.