MELISSA BLOCK, host: Many who have been bullied will tell you a good book can help heal the pain, a story that tells you you're not alone and this won't last forever.
Author Justin Torres came across just such a book many years ago. Here he is for our series You Must Read This.
JUSTIN TORRES: In 1995, when I was a sophomore in high school, an older, popular boy came out of the closet. He was taunted daily until he dropped out. I never saw him again. Months later, a decidedly unpopular, more flamboyant boy was beaten in the schoolyard. I remember escorting him to the nurse's office. I remember the look of disgust on the nurse's face. I don't know whether this disgust was directed at the fact of such savagery, or at the bleeding boy himself.
I also remember thinking that soon it would be my turn, and sure enough it was. That same year, 1995, saw the publication of "Dream Boy." In it, author Jim Grimsley confronts the violence of adolescent homophobia, but also, and maybe more importantly, he describes the emotional texture, the loneliness of growing up queer, and the bravery and special intensity of finding love in a hostile environment.
I wish that back then someone had put this book in my hands. I didn't come to "Dream Boy" until nearly a decade later, when I met the writer Dorothy Allison. She insisted that it wasn't enough just to write the violence, that we need to write the tenderness as well. Read Grimsley, she said. He was the one who had gotten it right.
"Dream Boy" tells the story of Nathan and Roy. Nathan's troubled family relocates to a new home on Roy's family farm. Nathan is smart, shy and slight. Roy is two years older, strong and popular. He's pulled gravitationally toward Nathan. The first half of the book is written with devastating beauty.
The second half of "Dream Boy" takes us to a haunted house, and the book becomes a ghost story. This is a brilliant, unexpected turn, and "Dream Boy" is like no other book I've ever read. I won't say too much more here, because you must read this book. But I will say that Grimsley realizes literature is not bound to the laws of the physical world, and he makes the most of this.
We find violence and tragedy here, and some have labeled this book Southern Gothic. But as Flannery O'Connor said: I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart. And it seems her heart had not been lifted up by anything of mine she had read. I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up.
There is something of a national conversation going on about adolescent sexuality and bullying. Nothing I have heard can touch the beauty and eloquence of "Dream Boy." No argument for compassion is as convincing. And if you've suffered or are suffering from bullying, no platitude is as salutary as reading and rereading this book. So read "Dream Boy," if your heart is in the right place.
BLOCK: Justin Torres is the author of the book "We, the Animals." You'll find more summer reading recommendations at the Summer Books page at NPR.org.
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: I'm Robert Siegel.
BLOCK: And I'm Melissa Block. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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