Rick by Alex Gino takes place two years after the author’s earlier book George. That earlier novel was unfortunately overloaded with activist preachy language, putting words into the mouths of ten-year-olds that they would never say or think. Rick was less didactic, but still overwhelmingly fake in its dialogue. Authors like Gino must realize that they should not put adult language into the mouths of children: it comes off as ridiculous proselytizing. It makes the novel sound as if it were written for adults and not middle-school children.

Rick is an eleven-year-old just starting grade six. His best friend, Jeff, causes mischief in school, which includes flaunting authority and defacing and burning posters for the school’s queer social group. It is this part of their friendship that troubles Rick; how can he be friends with someone who openly taunts and ridicules his queer classmates, and also Rick himself? Unlike Jeff, Rick takes no interest in girls–or boys–and questions his lack of desire. Is something wrong with him? He discovers in his school’s queer social group, the Rainbow Spectrum, that orientations such as asexual and aromantic are possible identities for him.

Now hold on one freaking minute. Rick is eleven years old. I wish Gino would let a child be a child and not be so focussed on assigning Rick a sexual orientation or identity. When I was eleven I wasn’t interested in either sex as sexual attraction wasn’t even part of my way of thinking. Gino did create characters, such as Rick’s grandfather, who inform him that he is still young and attraction might develop later. Good for Gino for doing that. But one should not saddle an eleven-year-old with an orientation (be it asexual or aromantic) to serve as a temporary label which will only change when the child hits puberty. Gino’s agenda is to label pre-pubescent children with various sexual orientations, as seen in the Rainbow Spectrum’s initial meeting where the children introduce themselves. While Rick’s friend Jeff does express his interest in girls at his school–and some boys and girls that young do know their sexual orientations–to use the labels asexual or aromantic on such a young person as Rick would only confuse him once he hits adolescence. What if he developed feelings for girls? Would he be conflicted with his asexual identity? Would he feel as if he was betraying himself by having a sexual attraction to someone?

The children in this book–they are eleven and twelve years old, remember–come out with such unrealistic dialogue as this, when the children introduce themselves at the first meeting of the Rainbow Spectrum:

“Kelly went next. ‘Hi. I’m Kelly Arden. I’m straight, but I’m a proud ally.’
‘Not to be harsh,’ said Zoe, ‘but ally isn’t really an identity to be proud of. And you’re new, but we talked about this last year, and we don’t use that word as a noun here anymore. Allying is something you do, not someone you are.'”

Now if I was a straight young kid joining a queer-positive social group and was told this–introduced by the definitely harsh beginning “Not to be harsh”–I would have run for the door, glad to be rid of this group of language-repressive queer nutcases. To hell with all of you, if you’re going to shove my support so “harshly” back in my face.

When Rick asks transgender girl Melissa (the George in the earlier book) about herself, he gets a verbal kick in the teeth:

“‘How did you know that you were a girl?’
Melissa paused, then recited the line she had rehearsed over the summer. ‘It’s not my job to justify myself to you.’
‘Oh! I didn’t mean…I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…’ Rick’s tongue tripped over itself.”

Get off the lavender soapbox, Gino. Rick is eleven–how many times have I come back to that simple fact–and he naturally is curious about how a boy named George could now be a young girl named Melissa. Children are going to ask questions, and Rick is only expressing what everybody else is thinking.

Rick develops a closer relationship with his widowed grandfather, who reveals a secret: he is a science-fiction cosplay cross-dresser. This side of the story’s various gender-bending themes at least seemed realistic. The pre-pubescent activists and language Stalinists on the other hand: none of them are real children. Nor were the children in Gino’s earlier novel George. This is another failure in juvenile queer literature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *