The Boys in the Back Row
October 06, 2020
Best friends Matt and Eric are hatching a plan for one big final adventure together before Eric moves away: during the marching band competition at a Giant Amusement Park, they will sneak away to a nearby comics convention and meet their idol-a famous comic creator. Without cell phones. Or transportation. Or permission. Of course, their final adventure together is more than just that-really, it's a way for the boys to celebrate their friendship, and their honest love and support for one another. That's exactly what we love so much about The Boys in the Back Row: it's an unabashed ode to male friendship, because love between boys, platonic or otherwise, is something to celebrate. And of course, because this is Mike Jung, we'll be celebrating it with hilariously flawed hijinks and geekiness galore!
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Matt's parents are possibly my favorite #MGLit parents ever, but we don't see that much of them. They attend the Unitarian Universalist church, spout phrases like "Respect bodily autonomy", invite over other families who are also of Korean descent, and have snacks like sriracha kale chips! Of course, they mortify Matt! It's great to see a solid friendship among boys, and also good that they don't change their friendship because people at their school (and even some people in the comic store) assume that they are a couple. The interest in comics, and the attempts to connect with Sean, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, added an interesting layer to this.
There's a good amount of discussion about how much grief boys who play flute get from their classmates, and I'm hoping this surprises most readers. There were male flute players when I was in middle school forty years ago, and no one cared. Now, the drummers in my school's band are evenly split by gender, with the occasional nonbinary student. As for boys who read books with girls on the cover getting a hard time... we have a lot of discussion about this in my library (and have for years), so I hope this is not the case at my school. I'm sad that Jung's experience of the world has so much negativity, but perhaps books like this will help change that.
Personally, I was disappointed by the twist that this took, because I was so looking forward to a particular adventure that didn't happen, but I'll definitely be purchasing this. Jung's Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities (2012) circulates well, and The Boys in the Back Row addresses a lot of timely issues of friendship, racial and gender related microagressions, and toxic masculinity.
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