Split Screen by Brent Hartinger

February 20, 2007
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Split Screen:
Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies
Brent Hartinger

HarperTempest
2/20/2007
Hardcover/256 pages
ISBN: 0-06-082408-5

". . . many serious questions teens face are entertainingly presented in a light and breezy tone."

What if high school had nothing to do with academics and everything with navigating the social strata, finding one’s way in the world, testing the waters and finding one’s path? Or, as dreamy movie star Declan McDonnell tells Russel, an out gay teenager and zombie extra in McDonnell’s latest teen movie, “Every year in high school is a new one, a chance to reinvent yourself, a chance to try something different…When you’ve played as many valedictorians as I have, and given all those graduation speeches, you know that high school is about looking ahead.”

 

This “wisdom-lite” is sprinkled throughout Split Screen. It’s a Young Adult double novel (finish the story, turn the book over and read it again, this time from a different character’s point of view with plenty of different scenes) about gay teenagers finding their way.

As a follow-up to his Geography Club and The Order of the Poison Oak, author Brent Hartinger continues the saga of Russel and his friend Min, a bisexual girl looking for a new relationship. Russel and Min, along with a few friends and a number of kids from other schools, sign up to play zombie extras in a movie being shot in an abandoned high school in their town over Thanksgiving weekend. Like most teens, these kids are opinionated and chatty. Unlike most teens, they are all extremely comfortable in their own skin. They know who they are and what they want and display a surprising lack of self-questioning in regards to their sexual orientation.

Earnest discussions and valid arguments about the correctness of coming out pepper much of the plot-line, which follows the movie shoot and the metaphor of the “zombiefied” nature of high school in general. But none of it overshadows the main story of Russel’s agonizing dilemma. Should he keep his long-distance boyfriend Otto, whom he met at summer camp in The Order of the Poison Oak, or should he go back to his ex, Kevin, a high school jock Russel dumped when Kevin, preferring the safe status quo, wouldn’t come out of his closet. Alternately, the flipped version of the story (Bride of the Soul Sucking Brain Zombies) follows Min’s attempts to convince Leah, the beautiful lesbian cheerleader she meets and falls for at the movie shoot, to come out to her vapid clique, who have no idea about the “real” Leah.

Oddly, the real intolerance in this book is mostly among the gay teens themselves, who have a hard time accepting their friends’ well-considered decisions not to come out during high school. Russel and Min both come off as pushy, self-righteous and overly “correct” in their lack of compassion for their jocky friends’ desires for self-determination on their own time schedule. Even when Kevin does come out publicly (and sports a black eye the next day), Russel and Min find his motives suspect and manipulative, but they both wind up being more manipulative than he.

As could be expected in a book targeted to young teens, the characters of the shocked and clueless parents are flat as cardboard. Otherwise, many serious questions teens face are entertainingly presented in a light and breezy tone. It’s like watching that fun episode of Lizzie McGuire when all the main characters reveal they are gay. Oh, wait, that never happened.
Reviewer: Candelora Versace

 

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