Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The eponymous narrator of this brilliantly multi-layered novel is trying to do what arguably every teen in America strives for: to fit in. But David Dahlgren's modest aspirations are hampered by reality. David is gay, something he doesn't acknowledge about himself at first, the dawning realization coming only as the story progresses.

As the awareness begins to sink in, David does much to fight it. Despite his growing attraction for one of his track mates, the charismatic Sean, David continues to date a girl, pushes his own out-of-the-closet best friend away, and even tries aversion therapy in the form of snapping a rubber band against his wrist every time he has a homosexual yearning. But it is all to no avail. David may be fast on the track, but there's no way he can run fast enough in his off-the-track life to escape the truth. When it appears that Sean reciprocates David's feelings - or at least his sexual urges - it looks as though life is about to improve for David, but...

Well, telling more would be telling too much.

The cover copy says that "DAVID INSIDE OUT is based in part on Lee's experiences growing up gay in Minnesota before the age of gay-straight alliances" and the author certainly uses the cold climate of that state to inform his story. Through the creation of nuanced characters, this compulsively readable novel avoids the trap of obvious good people/bad people caricatures. David's actions are not always heroic - witness the comment above about his treatment of his best friend - and the occasionally traitorous Sean is not a classic villain; they are merely, all of them, human beings along the continuum of the often difficult experience that is gay life in America, trying to find their own selves and their individual paths to self-acceptance and hopefully wider acceptance.

The great thing about Mr. Bantle's story is that you don't have to be a gay teenage boy to appreciate it; I'm a 46-year-old - and looking good! - straight female. But while the plot may be specific, the story of the quest for self-knowledge is universal. It is to be hoped of course that one day such books will all be historical fiction, chronicling struggles in an unenlightened past and having nothing to do with contemporary reality, but that day is not this day. Until such time, it is wonderful to have books like this.

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