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Stitches

by Glen Huser

Like Glen Huser’s first young adult novel, Touch of the Clown, this one deals with marginalized Alberta kids struggling with social problems. Travis knows he is different from the other boys in his junior high school. He is interested in fashion, sewing, and puppets, and has odd feelings for Malcolm, the class heartthrob. Travis and his friend, Chantelle, lead difficult lives; he’s misunderstood and bullied, while she’s disabled. However, with the help of an understanding home-economics teacher, Travis focuses on a puppet production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for school graduation.

The problems of gay teens at school are serious and worth examining in young adult fiction. Unfortunately, Huser’s treatment of the subject relies too often upon stock characterization. Travis’s teachers and the aunt who looks after him are too good to be true, and the bullies are one-dimensional bad guys. In addition, the dialogue is sometimes strained. For example, Travis’s mother, a country-and-western singer who’s always on the road, speaks in folksy homilies, describing someone in one instance as being “tighter than leotards at a Weight Watchers convention.” Most seriously, Travis, despite his determination to take sewing class, is a passive character who doesn’t solve his own problems — that’s left to Chantelle’s biker brothers with hearts of gold.

Stitches is a brave attempt to present different kids in a sympathetic light. It may appeal to adults who want to see these issues dealt with in children’s literature, but the clichés will turn off the bulk of the intended readers.