Wallaçonia by David Pratt
Rating: 5 Stars
Publisher: Beautiful Dreamer Press
Genre: Gay Young Adult/New Adult
Tags: Coming of Age
Length: 278 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
High school senior Jim Wallace faces the approaching Christmas holidays with a mixture of hope and dread. To escape the pressure, he imagines the woods and marshes around his home to be an independent country, Wallaçonia, where he is accepted and recognized as the “upright and sterling” young man people expect him to be. And he may make it yet: this could be the week he and his girlfriend Liz finally have sex, putting to rest any lingering doubts Jim has about what kind of guy he really is. But then Pat Baxter, a neighbor, asks him to help out in his bookstore during the holiday rush, and Jim starts making new connections – and rediscovering an old one. Will Jim leave the sanctuary of his imaginary Wallaçonia for the real world? And which real world will it be, the one with Liz or the one that beckons from the bookstore?
This is a beautifully poignant piece of coming of age gay fiction. The writing is perfect for the YA/NA age category yet deep and meaningful for older generations. It’s a book that plenty of gay men will relate to, they’ll know some of the struggles and the people, yet I’m a woman and I found it moving and charming and honest; and I knew some of the people.
Wallaçonia is heartfelt and moving and immerses you in the mind of an eighteen year old who must be straight, has to be, because that’s what makes you right and makes your family happy and proud. Movies, books, the community at large encourages you, urges you, to be manly and upright and dependable. So you have a girlfriend and you aren’t at all femmy. You’re so unfemmy you may even pick on a softer target to distance yourself, so no one might suspect. And you’re going to have sex with Liz, and you’re going to keep thinking about how normal you’ll be afterwards, and one day you’ll settle down with her and have children. Furthermore, you’ll go to a more conservative and rural university, not one in Boston where there are social activities for men who aren’t upright and sterling. No, that university is a standby measure only.
Life is a process, it’s an even bigger one when you’re scared of the ramifications of not being who or what your parents expect – maybe your parents won’t pay for your education, maybe it will be such an issue you won’t have a home to come to.
But a man comes along who nudges Jim to believe in himself and to try to see the world through a different lens and narrative. One who knows who Jim is but doesn’t push it. Pat Baxter is kind and caring and shares things that help Jim have a backstop that wasn’t afforded a man now in his forties. Jim’s a mirror and Pat’s a mentor. He’ll help him step out of being pretend Jim, out of Wallaçonia, to embrace not only the wider world but himself too, bit by bit.
I loved this book and I was sad when it finished. David Pratt is as talented an author as you will find in (gay) fiction. All of the words and phrases and actions are like jigsaw puzzle pieces, even the cedilla under the title and the use of the sibilant s that Jim’s father uses when he is compacting Mr Baxter down into a stereotype carry throughout the book to a conclusion.
While Wallaçonia is meaningful it isn’t heavy-handed or miserable, there is understandable and real trepidation in Jim but there is hope and positivity and a life to be embraced.
I hope school and university libraries pick up Wallaçonia for teenagers up and faculty alike. I hope community libraries stock this book for people interested in broadening their horizons. 5 Stars all the way.