Throughout June, GeekMom celebrates Pride Month with lots of LGBTQ content. Follow the Pride Month tag to find all the content in one space (including LGBTQ content from previous years) and keep checking back for more throughout the month. Today’s book review is Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper.
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Trigger Warnings: homophobia, forced outing.
In Small Town Pride, middle-grade student Jake is the first openly gay kid in his small town of Barton Springs, Ohio, and just starting to get used to the looks he gets from others. However, when his dad hangs a comically enormous pride flag in their front yard, people in the town start making complaints to the mayor—who happens to live across the street. It seems that some residents are afraid that the flag could be the first step on a slippery slope toward something even more unseemly—a pride parade. However, Jake doesn’t think that’s such a ridiculous idea at all. Why couldn’t his small town host a pride parade?
Together with his friends and family, Jake starts making plans to host Barton Springs Pride, but with election season fast approaching, the mayor is more concerned about gathering support from potential voters than with supporting Jake’s idea, and soon the town is torn on the issue. Still, Jake is determined to host pride so he can feel as welcome in his own small town as he does in his beloved Songbird Hollow video game. With the mayor’s son Brett now starting to hang out with him too, everything is changing for Jake, but is there enough momentum to get the town on his side?
Phil Stamper has been a favorite YA author of mine for a few years, so I was happy to spot that he would be releasing his first middle-grade novel this summer. Small Town Pride is a cute little book with a powerful message about inclusivity and what it really means when a town says that “all are welcome.” Sure, there are some fairly unbelievable moments, but nothing felt outlandish enough to detract from the overall story and its feel-good vibes couldn’t be trampled by the negative attitudes Jake encounters on occasion. There are also some great lessons here on local politics, and why progress can easily be halted by just one or two individuals with power.
One thing I especially liked about Small Town Pride was the lesson it teaches about letting LGBTQ people come out on their own terms. Jake is out to his parents and most of his school, but so far he has controlled his own narrative, telling people when and where he feels he is ready. The story kicks off when his dad hangs a huge pride flag in the yard in what he believes is a gesture of love and support for his son. However, this throws a spotlight on Jake and reveals his queer identity to the entire town without his consent. Jake’s father acted from a place of love and unfamiliarity with queer issues, not any desire to cause distress to his son, but the inappropriateness of his actions is discussed at length without actively criticizing him because people make mistakes after all.
Small Town Pride shares a lot in common with The Secret Sunshine Project by Benjamin Dean (reviewed last week), as both books follow a group of middle-school-aged kids attempting to launch Pride parades in their small towns. However, the setting of small-town Ohio is so wildly different from an English countryside village that the two end up being very different books indeed.
GeekMom received a copy of this title for review purposes.