Friday, May 15, 2009

Trudat: A Boy's Point of View

The Making of Dr. Truelove
Derrick Barnes
Simon Pulse

I finally finished The Making of Dr. Truelove and if you’re a regular BES reader you may have caught some of the intermittent dialogue I have been having with Doret from The Happy Nappy Bookseller about the book. If you haven’t, the gist of our exchanges is that Doret loved the book, and I and Edi from Crazy Quilt did not. Edi says it was the most inappropriate book she had put on her shelves in a long time. Me, I wasn’t as alarmed but as cool as I’m ever going to be, let’s just say, I was not feelin’ the love for the doctor.

To be fair, The Making of Dr. Truelove has a lot going for it. It’s written from the teen male’s perspective and there certainly is a shortage of that on the market, it’s written by an African American male another plus if you care about readers identifying culturally with characters and authors, the story is contemporary and cool, a must if you actually want teens to read it, and it’s also about romance. The main character, Diego is a nice boy who is also very boy and therein lies the basis of what will rub some folks wrong- the testosterone factor. It’s in overdrive and it will likely turn off teachers, educators and some girl readers. Diego is a teen boy, a sixteen year old boy who like most boys is either thinking about sex, trying to have sex or waiting till he can have sex. And the character would not be authentic if he didn’t talk like most teen boys do when they are describing girls, body parts, and their sexual desires and frustrations. And if you want the character to be believable, let’s be sure to have an ample dose of bravado even for the guy who is otherwise sensitive and three dimensional when he is not being BOY.

Now before you think I’m being too sensitive or too critical, I am guilty of using colorful language, I was no one’s teen angel and I’m quite liberal in matters you might not want to think about so it’s not that I can’t appreciate a boy’s crassness. It isn’t that Barnes is simply unnecessarily crass, the problem is that I think he pushes it to the point where it loses its punch and gets just plain tired quick. I was bored. I was annoyed. I found the usage silly. And while each character should have their own voice, the tone of the characters simply didn’t mesh well. Let’s start with my biggest peeve: how crass Diego and J could be. Opening the story with how the tips of your girlfriend’s breasts are perfect like the new eraser tops of pencils isn’t smooth. Not cool. Not funny. Forgivable, yes, but that’s only the beginning. That's the tamest description in the book. Blue balls and firing off enough spunk to father a hundred kids? These aren’t Barnes exact words but that’s the translation. Is it working for you?

On the big night, Diego is more than a little excited. He pre-ejaculates and feels inadequate and embarrassed. Roxy, his beautiful, sensitive, crazy mad for his silly butt girl is relieved (like many girls who love their boyfriends she's agreeing to sex when neither of them are really ready or wanting it), but wounded Diego is too busy feeling deflated to notice. He does what a lot of boys do: avoid the girl whom he thinks doesn’t want to be bothered with a loser boyfriend who can’t make love. Of course avoiding her sends the wrong message. Rejected girl believes she’s been rejected because she’s done something wrong and she doesn’t know how to fix it not that boy gives her a chance because he’s too busy trying to figure out how to get back with a girl who didn’t dump him in the first place.

That’s where the super cool, sexy stud muffin, J the best friend comes in with the brilliant ideal to start a sex column anonymously. Running the column will build Diego’s self-esteem, get hotties for them both till Diego makes his big move on his real girl, and life is full of booty and more punai than a brother can stand. Now an internet column I can buy. Billboards, tee-shirts, news spots and an auditorium full of screaming girls tossing their panties- I can’t suspend that much reality. This is the flavor of the novel, folks. I’m not embellishing it. In fact, I’m toning it down.

Now if the obsession with sex isn’t bad enough, there are Diego’s parents: caricatures beyond belief. Really, at times I was more ticked off with Barnes for making Diego’s parents so ridiculous than I was with the language and sex scenes. The mother is supposed to be a professional. Instead we get this doctor who doesn’t behave at all like a professional, confident , educated woman and Pops, is either stuffing his gut, spewing food or obscenities or trying to stuff his wife (Hey, I’m just trying to keep the tone consistent with the book). J’s parents are non-existent and both boys have sisters who are all sex crazy, too. How’s this working for you?

When Barnes writes Dr. Truelove’s character, he is smooth, cool, intelligent, and Truelove gives sound advice. I think Barnes was stretching beyond his element with the other characters. Most of the book is Comedy Central with tired jokes and lousy timing. It’s like going to see a comedy in the theater, and the best jokes happen the first thirty minutes. By the middle of the book, I just wanted it to end already. Here’s the deal though, Barnes gives me just enough of the good kid, Diego, enough hope the romance will work out and enough of the doctor to keep me going so I throw on a raincoat and mufflers to block out the buffoons in the cast.

Having said all that, I don’t hate the book. I did laugh at the five funny jokes. I get Diego’s insecurities, and I do think he is a sensitive and good guy. I also think Barnes should have heeded the same opinion Diego said about his, Pop: Use a filter, bro. Some folks just have no tact. Don’t let the characters make complete asses of themselves. The crassness was overkill, and it overshadowed a light, funny, cool teen romance. We didn’t need all the language, body oil and ding dong swinging.

I hope Barnes gets a second shot (pun intended) because despite my criticism, I think he can address a gap in teen literature. I think this debut work will appeal to a lot of teens. Like my generation who passed around Forever and snickered at all the good parts, I think a lot of young people would give this a read and hey, if I get a young person who normally doesn’t want to read, to read this, it has some redeeming value. Let’s just hope I don’t get a letter or visit from a not so amused parent.


MichaelO said...

Susan - Very thorough review. I think I kinda had the gist of what you meant before the review. That is after I read into your comments a little more closely. I appreciate your conversation as well. I get your point on cultural authenticity. I think the same can be said for gender sometimes depending on focus and significance of the character. Thanks for keeping me in the loop.

susan said...

Thanks for coming back, Michael.

Anonymous said...

I guess I would rather teens not read if what they read reinforces the objectification of women. I don't see why, with all the wonderful male role models of color out there (who were once teens) that an author could not write an uplifting and/or classier book. Do we really have to valorize that attitude toward females just to get boys to read? And I'm even hoping that this is an insult toward young boys, to assume they couldn't like/absorb/get interested in anything else. Maybe if so that's because nobody is writing anything that can show them there are other ways to gain actualization.

But good review! No love for the doctor from me either!

susan said...

Rhapsody, I hear you. And normally I'm pouncing on messages that objectify women. In this case though, I'm trying to remember who the audience is and what resonates with them. Diego is not all bad and isn't that true of all of us? No one is always sensitive, mature, good and reasonable. And while he says and does some outrageous things, he really does care for Roxy and he does treat her well. It would be nice to think a really good boy wouldn't want to have sex but is that fair or even realistic?

I think there is something we could be missing in the absurdity and the offensive elements of the book. Like I said, Dr. Truelove actually gives very mature and sound advice to his audience and Diego really wants to be with the girl. He is really crazy about her.

I think Barnes could have smoothed out the text, but he wasn't write for me a 40 plus parent. He's writing to teens who feel pressured, want to be cool and are at times confused. I remember my teen years and lets say it was grace and not my right actions that kept me safe. I think Barnes is trying to address issues in a language and scenarios that are not as outrageous to them as they are to us.

Shalonda said...

Susan, this is one of the most well written reviews I have read in quite some time. Like Michael said, you were very thorough. I also appreciate the fact that you did not write this review with a snarky tone, as so many reviewers do when they dislike a book.

I have wanted to read this book for a while, and still plan to do so. However, I think I'll probably agree with your thoughts.

Summer said...

I see this book at the library all the time but I haven't picked it up yet. Your review is making me think about it... more so cause I want to read all the crassness. lol

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
Nice review.
While I did say I found the book inappropriate, my dislike stemmed from deeper issues which you touched upon in your review. I kept hearing how funny this book was. I didn't see the humor, but hey! I'm a girl! I also thought the character's voice was not genuine. The advice he gave out was way beyond his years. I couldn't tell if the author was using the character to preach to the masses or if he wanted his character to appear so very suave. The copies I had on my shelf have disappeared. No, I had nothing to do with that! The students have kept them. This is about the best compliment authors get from my students, so it does have kids reading although I couldn't bother ti finish it!

susan said...

Hi Edi, I didn't mean to speak for you. I wasn't sure specifically what bugged you but it's not a stretch to think you didn't find it funny. The columinist was too mature but I tried to see Diego faking what he read not what he knew. The advice made more sense that a Barnes in college would have been more convincing and it turns out he did a stint while in school.

I wondered if Barnes limited the show segments to avoid coming off preachy.

I had a hard time finishing it. lol

Doret said...

If Barnes started the novel with Diego and J talking about girls I probably wouldn't have liked it has much as I did. But lucky for me he didn't in beginning we are introduced to a shy, unsure, I love my girlfriend but now I am very embarassed Diego. A lot of the other stuff was over the top especially J, being such a ladies man. But I really enjoyed the over the topness of it. Its so unbelievable its funny. Underneath all the craziness, there's still the Diego we were introduced to in the beginning. Diego is far from perfect but I thought he was very likeable. Another thing Diego had going for him is I believed he loved his girlfriend. And I never got the feeling he hated women, (J I am not so sure about) And I must say I was happy see ladies man J used condoms.
"trying to stuff is wife"- that made me laugh.

susan said...

D, yes the book starts with the sensitive Diego, but it doesn't take long before he's describing Roxy's breasts. But it wasn't just the body parts but the combination. I, too, was convinced that Diego really loved Roxy the girl with a brain who was his friend. And you're right, I didn't think the boys were mysoginistic and I'm not arguing they should have been more mature than 16 year-olds typically are. If matters any, I didn't like Christopher Moore's Lamb either because Biff's incessant adolescent obession with women and sex got old. And the sex wasn't over-the-top in that book. Every book doesn't work for everybody. We agree that a lot of readers will enjoy it.

Doret said...

Susan, I like that we are able to peacfully disagree even though we visit each others blogs regularly. I wish more blogger friends would, share their opinions of a book, even if they don't agree with their friends view of the book. In the end I think its better for the book.

susan said...

Ditto. :-) Don't we get more out of the conversation and book when we discuss our differences? We see a book differently. But I don't see you any different. You are the same articulate, insightful, intelligent young woman whose opinion I value.

Ali said...

Well, here's a clear illustration of why authors shouldn't mind negative reviews. I read Doret's review and thought, "Hmmm, sounds good..." and forgot about the book after a couple of days, as we do. Now after reading this review I've absolutely got to read this book eventually. Must see which of you I agree with!