Johnny’s mostly punk, with some goth folded in for good measure (and eyeliner). He’s also an alcoholic at seventeen. After a very bad night at the club followed by a very bad morning in the hospital, he gets shipped off to rehab and then to his uncle in South Carolina.

I picked this one up because I’m a sucker for YA books with queer themes, and Johnny doesn’t just think Debbie Harry (lead singer of the 80s rock band Blondie) is hot and a great singer, he kind of wants to be her. He wants to be beautiful and confident, just like her. Like Boy2Girl, Debbie Harry Sings in French looks at teenage confusion and angst over gender and identity issues without trying to force it too much into neatly defined boxes – or at least, that’s what the publicist who wrote the book blurb wants us to think. While Boy2Girl does raise some interesting questions about gender stereotypes, Debbie Harry Sings in French is actually much more about identity in general, and about how we try to understand people. Johnny dresses up as Debbie Harry not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a symbol of beauty, confidence, and strength. If he’d heard David Bowie for the first time at the crucial moment in rehab, he’d’ve been wearing tight pleather pants and oddly-colored hair instead of a dress and a blond wig, and it would have filled exactly the same role. Well, it might have confused his family less. And it might be about adjectives other than “beauty” and “strength,” though I suppose that’s a matter of opinion. But the effect on Johnny would have been much the same. We take our liberation where we can get it.

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Debbie Harry Sings in French

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