Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance with magical elements from Genevieve Hudson. BOYS OF ALABAMA features a German teen moving to rural Alabama where he discovers friendships and confides in the genderqueer witch-boy about his powers that heal the dead.
About the book:
In this bewitching debut 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 the football team, he learns how to catch a spiraling ball, how to point a gun, and how to hide his innermost secrets.
Max already expects some of the raucous behavior of his new, American friends—like their insatiable hunger for the fried and cheesy, and their locker room talk about girls. But he doesn’t expect the comradery—or how quickly he would be welcomed into their world of basement beer drinking. In his new canvas pants and thickening muscles, Max feels like he’s “playing dress-up.” That is until he meets Pan, the school “witch,” in Physics class: “Pan in his all black. Pan with his goth choker and the gel that made his hair go straight up.” Suddenly, Max feels seen, and the pair embarks on a consuming relationship: Max tells Pan about his supernatural powers, and Pan tells Max about the snake poison initiations of the local church. The boys, however, aren’t sure whose past is darker, and what is more frightening—their true selves, or staying true in Alabama.
Writing in verdant and visceral prose that builds to a shocking conclusion, Genevieve Hudson “brilliantly reinvents the Southern Gothic, mapping queer love in a land where God, guns, and football are king” (Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks). Boys of Alabama becomes a nuanced portrait of masculinity, religion, immigration, and the adolescent pressures that require total conformity.
Max is a sophomore in high school, so about 15 or 16 and his father has moved him and his mother to a tiny Alabama town. Max is looking fro a fresh start after losing his best friend and love of his life, Nils, to disease. Max has a secret power to raise dead things back to life–plant or animal–and he feels torn by guilt that he never tried to resurect Nils–and fears he may have accidentally done this just before Nils was buried.
Max is a fast runner and he gets recruited to the football team of his small private high school, God’s Way. The team and their friends are especially holy, Lorne’s father the Judge is a prophet of sorts. Max doesn’t understand the subtext, but there’s talk about giving over sins and using snake venom or rat poison to purify the spirit. There’s a huge current of “Jesus saves” and God-loving, which clashes with teenaged binge-drinking and what seems to be non-consensual sex perpetrated on the MC by his friend and fellow teammate. Max is both captivated by, and scared of, Pan the genderqueer witch of town. Pan discovers Max’s power and serves as a confidante for Max, and his soft place to land when he needs one. Pan is a tentative sexual partner for Max and at least one other boy, it seems.
The prose is odd with nary a quotation mark to be found. It took a while for me to become accustomed to this. It is lilting and lyrical, told through Max’s confused point of view, struggling to code-switch between his German roots and the Americana tableau of Alabama southern pride, guns, God, and football. It’s the first time Max is seen as a boy worthy of friendship, his oddity is his foreignness, not his powers which he has fought to hide for years. Just as he’s fitting in, he’s giving away the only part of him that’s special and unique, and that seems a pretty hefty metaphor. The end trauma is a hate crime–and it’s brutally couched in trying to “save” a friend’s immortal soul. I’m pretty sure that’s what parents who send their kids to conversion therapy think, too. The snake-charming, possible poisonings were true cult action, and it seemed virtually no one was speaking out. There are only a few people who talk sense in the story, and they are relegated to the outer edges and diminished as accessory, or occult. Max venerates cultists and whack-jobs because they want him to belong to their arcane secret society. It’s a dangerous paradigm that Max falls prey to, and Instead of calling it out, the end falls completely flat. It’s written to be a Southern gothic, but the story landed off the mark to me.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!