REVIEW: Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson

The Official Description:  A coming-of-age novel told with magical realism, Boys of Alabama guides us through sixteen-year-old Max’s first year in America.

In this bewitching first novel, a sensitive teen, newly arrived in Alabama, falls in love, questions his faith, and navigates a strange power.

While his German parents don’t know what to make of a South pining for the past, shy Max thrives in the thick heat. Taken in by rowdy football players, he learns how to catch a spiraling ball, point a gun, and hide his innermost secrets.

When Max meets fishnet-wearing Pan in physics class, they embark on an all-consuming relationship: Max tells Pan about his supernatural powers, and Pan tells Max about the snake poison initiations of a local church. The boys, however, aren’t sure what is more frightening—embracing their true selves, or masking their true selves.

Evoking Dorothy Allison, Lambda Award finalist Genevieve Hudson offers a nuanced portrait of masculinity, immigration, and the adolescent pressures that require total conformity—in short, a twenty-first-century South that would have been unimaginable to the late Harper Lee.

Just the facts: Young adult novel, no dialogue punctuation, coming of age, immigrating to America, religion

Hudson has written a dreamy, visceral story about a young German man finding himself immersed in southern culture at the same time as he tries to understand who he is growing into. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit:  This book has a lot of things going on in it… but I will say that it kept me coming back. Each time I had to put it down, I was anxious to get back to it. I’m new to Genevieve Hudson so I’m not sure if this book is representative of her work. I would encourage you to read the warnings for this book, there is some really heavy subject matter.

The main character in this novel is Max. He has recently moved from Germany and relocated to a small town – Delilah – in Alabama. Immediately, he is immersed in the world of toxic masculinity and organized southern religion. There’s one exception to all of that… and it’s Pan. Pan is a new-age, “witch” according to the other boys on the football team.

As I said, there are a few things going on in this novel, let’s being with the main relationship. Max and Pan become friends, probably because Max’s german background has led him to be more open-minded than his new friends. Pan dresses however he wants, fishnets, feminine clothing, and he wears makeup. I loved that Max accepted him from the beginning in spite of what the other “jocks” said about him. Their relationship has many ups and downs throughout the story but I loved it. Their interactions seemed very realistic to me: flighty, emotionally motivated, swinging between extremes.

What’s interesting about Max, in addition to his coming of age, is that he has a special power. Max can bring dead things back to life. It’s a strange thing to have an ability like this, and it’s never really explained in the novel.    One day he just discovers that if he touches a dead animal or plant it will come back to life. An event in Max’s past has left him confused about his ability so he has a strange relationship with it.

Another plot point running through the story is the religious community in the south. There is an election going on and “the Judge” is also a revered leader in the religious community. There’s a story in the community that he once drank poison and lived through it… so he too has a “magical” quality about him. While Max is struggling to determine where he fits in, he seems to be torn between the world of the Judge and the world of Pan.

Ultimately, I feel as though this book is about coming-of-age and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. I didn’t have a real clear understanding of why Max had a magical power. I suppose his special abilities enabled him to explore the more ethereal and faith-based beliefs of some of his friends. I feel as though this book would have been just as beautiful without the super-power.

Max is a complex character and I grew very fond of him throughout this story. He’s an authentic character, struggling to find his way in a world of conflicting messages. His family is very open-minded and forward-thinking, his football friends are focussed on masculinity and bonding, Pan is a free-spirt, and the religious people he meets with have definite beliefs about the “correct” way to live. Max doesn’t seem to fit firmly with anyone and often finds himself pulled in multiple directions. I was touched by his emotionality and the weight of his worries.

There is no punctuation for the dialogue in this story. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book that had no punctuation as I find it really difficult to adjust my thoughts to it. But, as this was a review copy I gave it a go. While I did get used to it, I sometimes had to re-read passages to understand if characters had spoken aloud.

The ending is a bit abrupt. I found myself wishing that the story had continued for a few more chapters. There were a lot of plot points that I found weren’t resolved enough for me to be completely satisfied. Kudos to the author though, for creating a character that I cared so much about – I really wanted to continue my time with Max.

There were a lot of things in this novel that were difficult to read, but I’m not sorry that I read it. This is one of those stories that will stay with me for a very long time.

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) Animals killed, death of a friend, dead animals described, cruelty to animals, intense right-wing ideology, fat-shaming, rape (described as a dream), toxic masculinity, homophobia, bigotry, racism.

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of Boys of Alabama: A Novel by Genevieve Hudson from Liveright via Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

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