Lauren, Christina. Autoboyography. Simon & Schuster , 2017. Print.
Note: This is a review of an advanced, uncorrected proof.
There are few things as terrifying as sharing your writing with a workshop group. I kept my short stories and novels-in-progress private until I decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Staying completely silent as strangers combed through each paragraph and pointed out every unnecessary adverb and grammatical error felt like nettles scraping across my heart. Pain aside, I emerged from these sessions a better, stronger writer. Nowadays, I look forward to writing workshops.
Students, of course, have the same feelings of vulnerability when they share their writing, particularly writing that describes or stems from personal experiences. I’ve seen kids tremble, flush, clam up, or become defiant when they are called upon to read their work aloud. Christina Lauren’s latest novel, Autoboyography, describes the process of writing alongside your classmates, but it goes far beyond the procedures of writing workshops and editing. In many ways, Autoboyography examines how writing is an extension of ourselves and how putting pen to paper helps the writer archive some of life’s most precious and heartbreaking moments.
Tanner Scott lives in an area of Utah saturated with Mormon churches and devout followers. This makes Tanner somewhat of an anomaly—his dad is Jewish, his mother a defected Mormon, and, unbeknownst to anyone outside of his immediate family, Tanner is bisexual. By flying under the radar, Tanner carves out a happy life for himself. He does well in school, has a smattering of close friends, and is looking forward to attending college and leaving Utah behind.
At the urging of his best friend Audrey, Tanner enrolls in a class known as Seminar his senior year. Students in Seminar are expected to write and polish a fifty-thousand-word novel under the direction of their teacher, Mr. Fujita. The class will have a special addition—Sebastian Brother, a student who graduated the previous year. Sebastian’s novel was so exceptional that it was quickly purchased and slated for publication, making Sebastian something of a celebrity in their small community. Tanner feels an immediate pull to Sebastian despite his knowledge that Sebastian is both an extremely devout Mormon and the son of the local bishop. He decides to pour his conflicting emotions into his novel-in-progress. Will he work up the nerve to turn in his extremely autobiographical work? Does Sebastian share Tanner’s feelings? Will Tanner find the courage to be honest with his closest friends?
As the novel is told mostly through Tanner’s POV, it would have been easy for the book to spiral into a dislike of all Mormons and, larger, a dislike for all organized religion. Tanner, despite his occasional snarky comments, is open minded and curious, and seeks out information about the Mormon religion not in a desire to convert but to understand Sebastian’s world. In doing so, he shatters many stereotypes and misconceptions. Tanner is also a great multi-faceted character with an authentic voice.
The narration shifts to Sebastian’s vantage point mere chapters before the book ends, then back to Tanner’s, then back to Sebastian’s, then back to Tanner’s, alternating between third and first person. As most of the book was told in Tanner’s first person narrative voice, this stylistic choice rattled me. I understand that the bulk of the novel was meant to be Tanner’s book, and the writing that followed was simply the fall-out; however, it seemed too late to leave Tanner’s head and enter Sebastian’s.
Autoboyography would be a great addition to a classroom library, and especially popular among students who enjoy romance novels. The book also encourages readers to take painful and confusing moments in their life and allow those things to seep into their writing. I’m always encouraging my students to “write what hurts”, and Tanner is an excellent example of a student who used writing to sort out his emotions and make sense of his world.