by Rio Liang
All 10-year-old Ian Drake wants to do is read books. Which is tough, considering his evangelical parents pre-screen his book lists. If he could, he’d live in the public library. And he does just that, on the night before his attempt at escape from Hannibal, Missouri. Oh, and did I mention that his parents send him to ex-gay classes for preadolescents to “correct” his incipient predilections? As both an unwitting and willing accomplice, ne’er-do-well librarian Lucy Hull–righteously disapproving of the Drakes’ methods–discovers the surprise squatter in the library, and embarks with him on one laugh-out-loud funny, often doleful, and ultimately hopeful road trip.
In her debut effort, Rebecca Makkai (whose short fiction you might remember in both the 2009 and 2010 “Best American Short Stories”) expertly weaves various themes–of running away, fighting for a cause, the futility of idealism, and returning home–into one very satisfying read. It is so improbable a story, yet so scarily real (attempts at “de-gay”ing LGBT youths do in fact happen). Makkai paints the resourceful and persnickety Ian with the pre-sexual vagueness of youth, but it’s a fair certainty that he is indeed gay; we only hope that the imprints Lucy the liberal interventionist leaves in Ian’s mind will help him weather the storms ahead.
Makkai’s road trip at times drags on, but the climax of the story (Makkai provides a deft and delightful resolution to the mess Lucy finds herself in) as well as the ending are worth all the “Are we there yet”s.