A Question of Manhood
November 1972. The Vietnam War is rumored to be drawing to a close. For sixteen-year-old Paul Landon, it can’t end soon enough, because then his older brother Chris, the family’s golden child, returns home from the army for good. But on his last night while home on Thanksgiving leave, Chris entrusts Paul with a secret: He’s gay. And when Chris is killed in action, a decorated hero, Paul is beset by grief and guilt, haunted by knowledge he can’t share.
Burdened with his dead brother’s awful secret, desperate but failing to live up to his father’s expectations, Paul changes from a kid who’s no angel but not bad to a kid whose parents fear the worst. That summer, as a disciplinary measure, Paul is forced to work at his family’s pet supply store. Worse, he must train the summer help: JJ O’Neil, a boy headed for Cornell in the fall.
JJ is one year older than Paul and many years wiser. He knows how to take the burden of obsession from customers’ panicky dogs and make them calm. He becomes the new apple of Paul’s grieving father’s eye. And he’s gay. Though Paul initially dislikes JJ for being everything he’s not—self-confident, capable, ambitious—he finds himself learning from him. Not just about how to be a leader to misbehaving dogs, but also how to stand up for himself, even when it means standing against his father, his friends, and his own fears.
Just before school begins again, as a result of a prank by some of Paul’s less savory friends, he and JJ face a crisis together—a crisis neither can escape unharmed without the courage and support of the other. And through JJ, Paul finally begins to understand who his brother really was and to find a way toward becoming the man he wants to be.
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