April 29, 2014

Sandra Scoppettone: "Trying Hard to Hear You"

Title: Trying Hard to Hear You [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sandra Scoppettone [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 1973
Age: 12+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Simple but compelling story of friendship, prejudices and coming out, with a great cast of characters.
Cons: This is an oldie...you might feel like it's outdated. On the other hand, most issues are still relevant today. Sadly so.
Will appeal to: Those who prefer reading about feelings than about actual sex. Those who like stories with a strong friendship accent.

Blurb: In this heartbreaking tale of love and prejudice, one single summer changes the lives of an entire community. "Two of us were going to suffer like we never had before, and none of us would be the same again." (Amazon)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version.
Yes, I know. Really old stuff. The seventies! Even for me, who was already born at the time, this is a story that dates a little way back, since I was only a kid in 1973. Also, I've never lived in a small American suburb during an age of turmoils and attempted change. What I mean is, everyone can relate to this story. It's not ancient history, and it's not boring, and it's not outdated. Well, maybe (just maybe) the racial episode...but not the gay content. Which is a pity, of course. Yes, there was so much more ignorance going around those days, and lots of people thought that homosexuality was a mental illness (or a perversion, pure and simple). But mind you, if less often, this still happens today. So, what I mean in the end is, you have to give this story a chance. Because, 1973 or not, it will touch your heart.
Let me start by saying that the frame for this novel is one of my favourite: the kids are setting up a summer theatre show. I took an immediate liking to Camilla, the 16 year old narrator. She's genuine, fresh, introspective but outgoing. I also loved her relationship with Jeff, her best friend. The two of them have known each other for years, and Camilla doesn't see him as a possible boyfriend, which is refreshing. You can tell they are really close, though Jeff has a huge secret he didn't tell Camilla...he's gay. I sort of experienced a situation like that, so I think it's very plausible...especially given the still-not-so-enlightened time frame. Also, much later in the book, Jeff tells the story of how he realised he was gay, and it sounds so realistic and genuine.
In a sense, you might say this is a love triangle - except it isn't. Yes, there are a girl and two boys, but the dynamics at work here are really peculiar. Of course, the big secret doesn't hold for long, but this is not the point of the book. The point is how the secret, once revealed, affects the characters - especially Camilla. [...]

Keep in mind we're in the '70s, so you're in for some peculiar kind of bullying - not to mention the racial tension, because other than the gay issue, there's also an interracial relationship, that seems to cause mayhem nearly as much as the homosexual one. This is not a random side storyline, because it serves the purpose of drawing a parallel between two different kinds of love, stating that they are, in fact, the same thing...
This is a story of first love (well, more than one) and broken hearts - but not for the reason you'd expect. Of shattering secrets coming to light, and their impact on all kinds of different people. Of the effort some of them make in order to cope and - finally - understand and move on. Of people making bad decisions out of fear and peer pressure, and their tragic outcome. There are funny and light moments as well, and sweet ones too. Some parents/adults are pretty crude, others are helpful and understanding, but thank goodness they're actually there - not conveniently out of town. And there's a lot of growing up to do. Most of the kids grow up, in different ways, before and after tragedy strikes.
My only small problem with this book is a dialogue occurring in the very first pages. Camilla recalls an episode from her childhood (and an odd one at that), during which she overheard her mum and her aunt Kate talking about the possibility for her uncle to be involved in the Vietnam war. Kate was scared at the thought of maybe getting a crippled husband back, and Camilla's mother was sympathetic, because of course Kate wouldn't have chosen to marry a crippled man in the first place. I'm sure this doesn't reflect Scoppettone's view of disability, given her stance about other sensitive topics, but it's just odd and out of place. I hope it only serves the purpose of introducing an anti-war feeling, but even then...what does it have to do with the main topic?
Other than that, an emotional and honest book, full of characters who - whether they have a line or a hundred - sound, for the most part, real. Do yourself a favour and read it. Because I have this strong feeling that it will stay with you...

For more Contemporary books click here
For a mystery by Sandra Scoppettone click here.

More THTHY covers - in chronological order, more or less. Not sure if the one I put beside the review was used for the 1st or the 2nd release


  1. Great review!! Makes me really want to read the book again. ;)

    1. Thank you! I love to introduce people to books that are new to them, but encouraging a re-read is the next best thing ;).

  2. Great review! Now I want to read the book.
    I found your blog through goodreads, and I love it! I followed. My blog is https://sweetandsassyreviewz.blogspot.com if you'd like to check it out and return the favor. :)

  3. Despite this being the 1970s, the idea of New York area kids who are on the honor roll and involved in the THEATER being homophobic is a bit hard to comprehend. Perhaps if the setting involved athletes or "big people on campus" types somewhere in the "Heartland", the scenario would be more believable. (That is, unless the author was trying to force home some sort of irony here). What is also interesting is that, not so much Camilla, but a good number of her friends would also have been considered "misfits" at this time. One girl, Janet, is very overweight, and believe me, when I was in school, those folks were particular targets of ridicule. Yet, she was right in there with the others in terms of wanting to ostracize the two gay boys. For her part, Camilla, to me, comes off at times not a very likable character. She is a bit of an elitist, for example, making fun of the manager of the supermarket where she works as "having a dumb job". She also cannot resist at making catty snipes about friends whenever given the chance in her narrative. Finally, her rather cruel treatment of her "best friend" Jeff shortly after his being "outed" casts a dark shadow over her character as a whole. In the epilogue, when she is writing about how she and Jeff "made up", and that he was now away at college where he met a new boy, one gets the feeling that their friendship had nevertheless been permanently compromised. All in all, however, this is a fabulous and defining book, and why it was never made into a movie remains a mystery.

    1. Hmm. You gave me some food for thought here. Then again, this is a coming-of-age book even more than a coming-out one (it doesn't center on the gay boy, but on his hetero best friend...something that would be frowned upon today, because one could argue that the gay friend narrative shouldn't be used to teach his hetero pal a lesson, but should be front and center), so I suppose that Camilla needs to make mistakes before she grows into a better person. One thing though - I personally didn't get the sense that their friendship had been permanently compromised, but I suppose it's debatable.

      Thank you for commenting!


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