One of my favorite genres is “queer characters earning their happy endings by clawing their way through non-queer-specific trauma.” In other words, reducing homophobia to background microaggressions while pinning the Antagonist badge on something straight characters could have dealt with, only we get to read about people like us dealing with it instead because we exist. Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz is a great, “gay YA” example of exactly that — its two teenage boy protagonists, Craig and Lio, are living through the Beltway Sniper in 2002 Maryland, as well as continuing to cope with the fallout of 9/11, having survived cancer, and losing loved ones in various ways. How do you Boyfriend when you’re still having a lot of trouble figuring out how to Human Being?
If I was going to reduce the book down to its romantic structure it would be an all-male love triangle between teenage boys, but it’s not about that as much as it’s about how do you cope, how do you deal. The love triangle is the trunk but it doesn’t tell you the shape of the branches, what the leaves look like, or what kind of fruit grows there. The rest of the tree-components in my tortured metaphor is that it’s a book about how 9/11-and-then-the-sniper affected teens in Maryland, because that’s what the book is really about. There’s a really interesting passage about how Marylanders felt about New York, because New York’s pain was… more famous? But it’s not done in a condemning way, because the two boys represent both sides of the argument.
On the first page of the book all of Craig’s pets run away when a burglar leaves the doors open, and he spends the rest of the book slowly finding them, counting down. Some are alive, some he finds dead. I don’t know if the author intended this on purpose but I loved the way you could take that as symbolism for healing. When you lose something, whether it’s an actual person who died, a person you lost because someone else died and they couldn’t deal, or just the innocence of being a teenager in a world where you didn’tthink 9/11 and the sniper would ever be your reality, digesting that loss is a process. In that process, you get some things back — your smiles, and maybe that’s the animals Craig finds, one at a time — and there are other things you never get back and it leaves you changed, and those are the pets he finds dead.
Meanwhile he and Lio (who’s Jewish, incidentally) are falling in love in an awkward, adorably teenaged way. Here I have to give the author props for one of my favorite lines I’ve ever read, in which a minor character, a straight boy, is bragging to Craig about his first sexual exploits: “Pussy is Christmas.” Coming from a fellow queer Jewish woman, this line made me screamlaugh so violently that a 76-year-old colleague demanded to know what I’d just read. Somehow I muddled through a PG version of an explanation!
Moskowitz’s style, at least in this specific book, is extremely casual and informal, so that you really feel like you’re reading the inner thoughts of two teenage boys. At one point one of them is frustrated or bored with something and he literally cuts himself off mid-sentence to say BLAH BLAH. It’s like she writes without a bra, which is a ridiculous thing for me to say but I mean it in a positive way and I hope you just know what I mean. (I often feel like I’m not allowed to write like that.)
I love the names of the animals, too. I kept peering up from the book to tell anyone nearby the cute pet names, like Sandwich and Kremlin.
This isn’t even a fair beef but part of me wishes the book was about girls instead. But she writes other books about girls so I know that’s a totally invalid comment.