Fourteen-year-old Jeff Irwin is slightly built, geeky, and timid—a social outcast who‘s the last to be picked on any team. Not surprisingly, he‘s smart and makes good grades. He‘s also in awe of jocks, one football player in particular. Brett Willson is the seventeen-year-old “dumb jock,” the star quarterback who drives a sports car, has a beautiful girlfriend, and is Homecoming King. Yet, Brett is still insecure and has a strong need to be admired by the smaller boy. The two teens are brought together when the gym teacher and football coach, Mr. McDonald, threatens to fail Jeff in PE unless he tutors Brett, and promises to give Jeff an A if Brett succeeds.
It turns out that Brett wants to learn and starts doing well in the English Grammar class that he’s already failed twice. The two teens develop a friendship that quickly turns sexual and the tables turn. Jeff goes from being the teacher to the submissive as he services Brett after each study session. Brett needs to be worshiped, and Jeff needs to feel safe and protected.
In a compelling boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy coming-of-age story, Jeff is faced with many obstacles: abandonment by his alcoholic father, the death of his mother, and the firing of his favorite teacher because he’s gay. Brett is very supportive, kind, and caring during these tragedies, but he”s also very afraid of coming out of the closet. He keeps his girlfriend and ignores Jeff in school, and he succumbs to the pressures to be “normal.” Over time, it becomes difficult to identify which boy is strong and which is weak.
The well-crafted plot, and well-developed characters make this a realistic novel. Despite the mild dominant/submissive theme, the sex is mostly left to the imagination, making it suitable for adolescents, as well as adults. For example, one sexual encounter is described simply as “I knelt.” Although the book’s happy ending may be a fantasy, the romance of Dumb Jock will appeal to those who enjoy gay coming-of-age stories. Libraries with comprehensive LGBTQ fiction collections should purchase this title.
The Trevor Project, a national organization dedicated to ending suicide among LGBTQ youth, has selected Dumb Jock for its bibliography “Books for Young Gay Men.”
Reviewed by, Larry Romans
Head, Government Information and Media Services
Vanderbilt University Libraries