by Mark Hardy
The last YA novel I read was by Caroline B Cooney. It was part of her vampire series and I read it in 5th grade. It was for a book report and I even made a diorama. The walls of the shoe box was covered with stones I found around my neighborhood. I made a bed out of cotton balls and Q-tips. I told my class that this was where the vampire lured teenage girls. "To do what?" "I don't know. Use your imagination, but it has to be bad."
YA novels have ever since been a blur of vampires and sometimes werewolves. The success of the Twilight Saga has reinforced that, and then everything after that (the vampire avalanche, I call it), confirmed it.
Reading Mark Hardy's debut was not like that. There were not vampires, not even a gay one. Indeed, Hardy's novel explored the coming of age story of Vincent Harris, during the summer of his coming out in the 1970s. While there are a slew of gay YA novels about coming out, this one has a slight twist: Vincent's a pastor's son, which probably stemmed from Hardy's own life. Raised in Virginia (also the book's setting), he too is a preacher's son. But as his biography states, that's where the similarities end.
Hardy grew up, became a teacher, and now writes (He was a Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writer). Vincent on the other hand, is bound forever in the present tense. By the end of the novel he comes out out to his parents, falls in love, and goes to church camp, but the beauty of this novel is that we do not know what happens afterwards, not really. We just have the present of Vincent's life.
In that way, reading Nothing Pink is like memory. Any adult (any queer adult) reading this will instantly conjure up memories of his/her coming out. How it was for them: the struggle of identity, that instant of recognition in another queer person, and of course porn. The novel unravels like memory. Even though its a scant 100 or so pages, some scenes are beautifully rendered in a slowness that in other hands might have just ended up muddled and slow. But in Hardy's voice, the slowness of the scene is part of the reminsicing, part of the tone. And the wording is simply beautiful. For example, take this scene from the beginning of the book:
"I sink in the tub until only my knees and neck and head remain out of water. Now that my shoulders are immerse I realize how cold the air is and how chilly things are with my mother.
She puts the magazine down on the counter and picks up the dental floss. She tears off a long piece of it and wraps one end around each pointer finger, then watches herself wrap and wrap until the floss between her two fingers is perfect length.
She's waiting for me to go next, to explain my lie."
Hardy's prose is full of precision more akin to a short story writer than a novelist. His observations--its pacing and its silences--are packed with keen observations and loaded with meaning the same way our memories play in slow motion and then we finally understand why, what, and who we are.
Yet it is precisely this that makes Hardy's novel less of a YA novel, and more of a novel about a teenager. The fact that it takes place in the 70s begs the question: can today's youth can relate to this? This is especially the question when Hardy alludes to Tom of Finland and First Hand and even eight tracks. (I personally didn't even hear of Tom of Finland until I was in college and visited a gay bookstore in DC; First Hand is new to me; I don't know what an eight track is, I just know it's very old).
But perhaps this is just my interpretation of it as an adult (albeit a younger one). The only inkling that this might be geared specifically towards YA readers is near the end when Vincent contemplates God and God's meanings and purpose. Any queer adult would probably understand it already, but perhaps for younger readers, this is the crux and ephiphany of the novel. To older readers, however ,it just seems didatical and slow, in a bad way.
Overall, Hardy's debut is strong and poetic. He paints characters as whole people, not just caricatures. His gay teens not only contemplate God, but about boys and Barry Manilow. His religious fanatics are less fanatics, than parents trying to navigate their child's world (Chapter 9 is heart breaking!) His prose and style flows like memory and is bound to please adults as well as teenagers (perhaps even more so).
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