A Boy's Own Story (Picador Books)

by Edmund White

Paperback, 1986



Call number




Picador (1986), Paperback


At home, in school, and on the streets, a homosexual teenager moves through comic sexual experiments, isolation, fear, and exciting expectations toward an escape from childhood and a firm sense of self.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ablueidol
A lyrical story of growing up and having to deal with this and being gay.
LibraryThing member amerynth
"A Boy's Own Story" is the first in Edmund White's autobiographical trilogy about growing up gay in 1950's America. He struggles with his homosexuality and with a deep longing to belong that seemingly is never fulfilled.

White is a terrific writer in terms of use of language... his descriptions are
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beautiful without being overwrought. His pacing and plot is more difficult to like... the story is very fragmented and jumps around to different time periods in his youth.

Overall, I found the book to be an interesting coming of age story.
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LibraryThing member Cirencester
'The boy's self-portrait shines with authenticity, he is an extraordinary but plausible mixture of sweetness and deviousness ...Add to this the fact that White's prose is marvellously sensual while his eye is sharply satiric and you have something of the flavour of an outstanding text which should
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appeal to a wide audience.The book goes beyond its homosexual theme to say something about the whole process of growing up' Robert Nye, Guardian
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
White's autobiographical novel of growing up with a sense of otherness.
LibraryThing member Kiddboyblue
I find myself drawn to coming of age stories, especially well written ones, such as "A Boys Own Story," for many reasons. One of which is a one sided view of the characters that make up this one individuals story.
What White does so well is vividly paint these essential background characters such
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as the father, or his mother and eventually teachers and friends. It is through his interactions and observances of them, that we in turn get to know and understand him.
To me, this is how real life works, and yet is so rarely captured well in novels.
The novel is definitely graphic at times, which for me felt raw and correct for the story being told, but understandably unnerving to some.
I personally saw a lot of myself in the protagonist. His perpetual need to please everyone, his fear and yet attraction to authority figures, and his fluid morphing of character are all traits that I have felt to some degree, and so endeared me to the novel on a personal level.
Certainly this is not every gay man's coming of age, but still a powerful and very honest look at some universal emotions and trials gay men go through while coming to terms with who they are.
Overall a solid novel with a lot of depth and substance. I'm excited to continue on to the rest of the trilogy.
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LibraryThing member booklover3258
I made it to page 16 and I couldn't read anymore. It is truly a personal thing for me than anything. It was not my type of book I would normally read but I gave it a shot. After 15 pages, I had to stop.
LibraryThing member starbox
"What I wanted was to be loved by men and love them back but not to be a homosexual"
By sally tarbox on 3 June 2018
Format: Paperback
Very readable and vivid account of the author's teens, growing up gay when such things were not discussed. His efforts to date a girl, to tell himself he's just going
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through a phase, while spending his days yearning for men.
Yet while homosexuality is not openly mentioned, it's going on all around him, from a neighbour's young son to his classmates and teachers... He dabbles in religion and psychoanalysis; he contends with a rather dysunctional broken family.
I thought his descriptions of his insecure mother were fabulous:
-"You're handsome and intelligent."
-"Handsome! With these big nostrils?"
-"Oh, that's just your sister. She's so frustrated she has to pick on you. There's nothing wrong with your nostrils. At least I don't see anything wrong. Of course, I know you too well. If you like, we could consult a nose doctor". A long pause. "Nostrils...Do people generally dwell on them? I mean, do people think about them a lot?" Smal high voice: "Are mine okay?"
A hopeless silence.

White's evocation of adolescence, the efforts to fit in, be popular will strike a note with readers whatever their gender or sexual orientation.
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LibraryThing member RoxieT
Well...can't say this was a great book, and honestly, it was rather difficult to get through. That being said, I can definitely see how this book broke from the mold in its time. However, I think there are far better books out there about coming of age than this. Still I will give his next few
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books a go to see if things improve.
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LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
"Like a blind man's hands exploring a face, the memory lingers over an identifying or beloved feature but dismisses the rest as just a curve, a bump, an expanse."

Originally published in 1982 'A Boy's Own Story' is the first of White’s trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels. Initially the book
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was banned which almost certainly added to its popularity it became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. .

Told from the perspective of an adolescent boy who represents the author growing up during 1950's America, the unnamed narrator struggles to embrace his own sexuality whilst also dealing with distant parents, a cruel sister and having few friends. The novel casts an eye on American gay life during that era, a time when many saw it as a sickness that could be cured by either doctors or priests, and is a coming of age story packed with yearning and shame.

The narrator longs to be loved by the men in his life (father, teachers or peers) but must also give the outward impression of being straight which becomes apparent very early on in the book. When at the age fifteen he is asked by Kevin, the son of his father's house-guests and himself only twelve, about his experiences with women, he pretends to have had female lovers before the two boys share the first of several sexual encounters with each other. This is an experience the narrator in particular has longed for but also shows a curiosity for pleasure and intimacy in young boys. A point underlined when the narrator is surprised that the physical act of love can mean giving as well as receiving pleasure.

No doubt the very age of these two boys became, along with the narrators parting shot, one of the main reasons why the book was banned. It was the fact that the book had once been banned and I wanted to see what all the fuss was all about was one of my motivations for picking up this book along with the fact that it is on the 1001 list. I have little interest in the homosexual nature of the novel however, I still feel that this story is one that is worth reading. The prose is quite wonderful, sometimes sad sometimes funny. It fully captures a lonely young boy with a vivid imagination struggling on many fronts and never slips out of that adolescent voice.

So why didn't I enjoy it more? As the author himself admits in the afterword, homosexuality is no longer a taboo subject in Western literature, film and television, bookshops that once catered solely for this sort of material have been put out of business by mainstream outlets. Therefore, as stories like this have become more acceptable I feel that they now lack the shock value that they once enjoyed. I'm not saying that this isn't a good thing but it does mean that I've read other books of a similar vein and just did't really grab me as it might once have done. The rather jumbled timeline also meant I found it unbalanced with many of the more interesting points at the beginning of the book and some of the events totally unbelievable.

I have yet to read the following two novels but no doubt will at some point. However, I believe that 'A Boy’s Own Story' can read as a stand-alone novel and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys well written 'coming of age' stories whatever their sexual orientation.
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LibraryThing member mtbearded1
I've had this book on my shelves since 1986, according to the note I wrote on the book's title page. That said, in (re)reading the book, nothing seemed familiar. NOTHING. Admittedly, I'm asking my brain to go back 35 years to a time when my life was particularly fraught. Reading it now, I can say
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that it is an important book, but not an easy one. My reading these days is primarily what my mother called "light and frivolous," and A Boy's Own Story is neither light, nor frivolous. White writes in sentences that would make a German scholar proud. I found myself getting bogged down in strings of words that went on and on without a period in sight. A six chapter, 217 page book should take me an afternoon to read. This book took me four days. But I did find meaning in it. Written as a semi-autobiographical novel, it follows the protagonist in a first-person narrative that covers his years from seven to sixteen. But it is not a linear narrative. Chapter one tells of a summer during his 15th year. In Chapter two, our narrator is now a year younger, and in Chapter three, even younger. Chapter six, the final and longest chapter, takes place at a prep school where our narrator, now 16, attends school, but mostly seems to fraternize with the headmaster and his wife and small son. In other words, the book is written as a series of episodes that the narrator remembers in seemingly random order. The overall message though is familiar. The narrator is aware of his attraction to other males, but is terrified of being a homosexual. He even acts on his natural impulses while seeking any way to see this as only a phase--a natural phase at that--through which all boys pass. I recommend the book--with the caveat that this is not an easy read.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
First published in 1982, A Boy's Own Story's main character has been compared to Teddy Roosevelt and characters from Lolita and Huckleberry Finn. The first in a trilogy and supposedly autobiographical in nature, A Boy's Own Story introduces themes of desire, coming of age, and identity. The book's
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nameless young narrator navigates his own sexuality in an age when parents simply warn their children about predators who seem "oversexed" and "take advantage of younger boys." Our hero fights his homosexual tendencies while wondering why the adult camp counselor doesn't rub his back in the middle of the night. Torn between propriety and passion, he struggles to find normalcy in his desires. Will his feelings for other boys fade in time? It this something to grow out of? In an effort to "change" he first seeks the advice of a priest. When that does not work, he convinces his father to send him to an all-boys boarding school. Maybe being in the presence of so many males would normalize his sexuality and set him straight? Not so. Next came a psychiatrist. Maybe he can address the psychological aspects of being attracted to men? A Boy's Own Story is all at once poignant and sad.
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Original publication date


Physical description

240 p.; 7.64 inches


0330281518 / 9780330281515
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