Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

In Star Trek, you don’t want to be the anonymous officer in the red shirt. In horror movies, you don’t want to be the slutty girl. Writers reserve the worst and most senseless deaths for these characters. In YA fiction, you don’t want to be the gay character. You sure as hell don’t want to be a gay main character. You won’t die a horrible death. You’ll just wish you could. Very few gay characters make it through a YA novel without becoming the victim of at least one hate crime. If you’re a main character, you’re looking at brutal taunting, anonymous threats, and public humiliation all leading up to a large-scale hate crime that defines the plot and lets the writer shove the message of how nice it would be if we were all tolerant down the reader’s throat while you lie bleeding and traumatized for life, because in YA fiction, your very survival depends on waiting until college to come out. Actually, wait until you’re 30 or so. Then you can at least land a sassy gay friend role in a nice, perky chick lit novel. No one gets hit with a crowbar in a chick lit novel. It’s your only way to safety.

I’m not trying to be insensitive. I know gay people of all ages live with the threat of hate crimes, and I know the toxic soup of adolescence is a breeding ground for cruelty. I remember my senior year in high school when we had a bomb threat (turned out to be a hoax) and a gay classmate didn’t want to leave the building because he worried that the threat was a ruse to get him to walk out of the building and into a firing squad. Seem paranoid? Keep in mind that the guy had gotten several death threats.

Still, does every gay teen in a YA novel have to suffer? By painting the same tortured picture over and over, aren’t YA authors simply reinforcing the idea that suffering and torment are normal for the gay teen? Am I alone in thinking it sends the message, “Being gay sucks, and being yourself will bring you nothing but grief”? At this point, I’m practically phobic for these poor characters. Every time a gay kid shows up in a book, I want to yell, “Run for your life! The author has it in for you!”

So why did I pick up Marco Impossible? I think the madcap premise drew me in. Did Marco manage to do the impossible and avoid becoming just another casualty of an author determined to drive home a message as heavy-handedly as possible? Read on.

marco-Bomb-mock-1PMarco Impossible

by Hannah Moskowitz

Roaring Book Press, $16.99 hardcover, ISBN-13: 978-1596437210, March 2013

Thirteen-year-old best friends Stephen and Marco attempt a go-for-broke heist to break into the high school prom and get Marco onstage to confess his love for (and hopefully steal the heart of) Benji, the adorable exchange student and bass player of the prom band. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and every heist comes with its fair share of hijinks.

Hijinks, indeed! Stephen and Marco not only must face the challenge of getting into the prom, but also interference from Stephen’s bevy of well-meaning, well-adjusted siblings, Marco’s snark fits over his parents’ impending adoption of a baby girl from Japan, Stephen’s raging crush on their gal pal Sasha, the threat of (guess what) a full-blown hate crime, and the perils of trying to rent a tux on the night of the prom. Underscoring every moment is a major threat to their long-standing friendship: eighth grade graduation. While Stephen will go on to public high school, Marco will go to the local prep school. Will their bond survive the transition? Moreover, Stephen wonders, why does Marco always make such selfish decisions, and why is Stephen always left in the role of unloved sidekick?

This book knocked my socks off. As the cover suggests, it’s a giant love bomb. Yes, hate crimes hover around the perimeter, but for once, the character’s sexuality isn’t the true motive. It’s the excuse, and isn’t that what hate crime really is: rationalizing the desire to commit violence by blaming the action on the victim’s orientation/ethnicity/whatever?

On the whole, though, Moskowitz has written a hilarious, deep, and heartwarming story of family, friendship, and the crazy things we’ll do for all types of love.

Despite the Mission: Impossible pun easily extrapolated from the title, Marco himself really is impossible: impossible to live with, impossible to ignore, impossible to control, and impossible not to love. His apparent self-obsession and larger than life charm mask the same insecurity any severely bullied child winds up feeling. I’ve seen a couple of professional reviews that say Marco is so selfish, snarky, and bad-tempered that they don’t understand why Stephen’s so committed to their friendship. I think they’ve missed two details. First, Stephen likes to take care of people. He actually enjoys being an older sibling. Marco is high maintenance and Stephen likes to maintain. Second, Marco is FUN. Stephen talks a lot about always winding up in Marco’s shadow, but he lands there because Marco always has the big, outrageous plans.

My one complaint is the believability factor. Marco and Stephen read as too mature for eighth graders. I thought for a while that I had read incorrectly and that they were really high school students, but no. I understand why the author set their ages so low. They’re facing the transition into high school and separation at the same time. If she’d made them high school seniors going into college, then Stephen’s worries about their friendship would make less sense because plenty of people split up to go to college. Also, she needed to put them on an impossible path, and getting into the high school prom would have been easier for them as high schoolers, of course. Still, I felt like the whole thing would scan better if they weren’t so young. They seem too sophisticated.

Other than that quibble, though, I loved this wacky, madcap adventure! I’ll be reading more by this author most definitely.