Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers is the other book I was judging for the Nerds Heart YA Book Tournament. This book was up against The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson, and the winner will go on to the next round.
Debbie Harry Sings in French is about Johnny, whose dad is killed when he’s 12 years old. Johnny’s mom can’t take care of the bills, cooking, cleaning, anything, so Johnny starts taking these things over so he won’t get put into foster care. Unfortunately, he starts drinking, too, so by age 16 he ends up in an in-patient rehab center where he first hears Debbie Harry sing in French.
And on those last few Parkwood Sunday mornings, instead of fantasizing about beer dregs, I slipped on my headphones and listened to Blondie. Listerning to Debbie Harry sing the French part of “Sunday Girl” was somehow more reassuring than anything the counselors had told me so far….But if they were right, and drinking eased the pain before, maybe Blondie could do it for me now.
After Johnny comes home from treatment, his mom sends him to live with his uncle, her brother-in-law. Johnny’s angry at first, but his uncle treats him like an adult, which Johnny likes. At the new school, Johnny’s teased as being gay, though he swears he’s not. He ends up dating a girl from school who doesn’t fit in either, and she’s the best thing that ever could have happened to him. She’s supportive, she doesn’t think it’s weird that he likes Blondie, and while she hopes he’s not gay, she’d be okay if he was.
This is where I must stop. Normally when I write a review, I give you enough background to get to the crux of the story. The weird part here is that the crux of the story is whether or not Johnny is a transvestite, someone who cross-dresses. But to lead up to that point, I have to practically tell you the whole story, and since I don’t want to do that, let what I’ve told you so far suffice, and we can now discuss the book itself.
Debbie Harry Sings in French isn’t in any way crass or over the top. In fact, I’d call it more gentle than anything. It’s a sweet story; it’s a nice story, though I’m not sure it dealt with anything particularly deep. It danced on the lines of getting deep, but just didn’t quite get there.
Also, the thread about Johnny being a transvestite was weak for me. I just didn’t see the character development to believe that Johnny really felt that way. I felt like his wanting to be a transvestite was pushed on him rather than a realization that that’s who he is.
I thought the writing of Meagan Brothers was really good. I think she’s taken a difficult and perhaps sensitive topic and put it in a story that would appeal to most people. This is her first book, so I’m really interested to see what she’ll come up with next.
With all that said, Debbie Harry Sings in French was a solidly good book. It wasn’t great, but it’s a book I can recommend almost without reservations.
Rating: 86 out of 100
Becky’s Book Reviews (she said everything I was trying to say, only better)