Bennett Madison: Hey, Joe, Ben Neihart
Naming a favorite ‘adult’ book is tough. That’s kind of a broad category! Instead, just to narrow down the field, can I offer one of my favorite ‘adult’ books that might have been published as YA, if it had come out at a different time? If so, I’ll leave aside the obvious choices— who isn’t sick of The Catcher in the Rye at this point? — and point to Ben Neihart’s now out-of-print Hey, Joe.
Set over the course of a single night in New Orleans in the 1990s, the story follows Joe, a goofy, bighearted, teenager roaming around on a quest to conquer the city, have a good time, and get laid. I read it when I was sixteen, in a period when lots of books about queer teenagers were drearily preoccupied with homophobia, hate crimes, and traumatic coming out stories. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But in contrast, Joe’s joyfulness toward the world and casual fuck-itness about his sexuality — is he gay? Bi? Joe gives it very little thought— felt revolutionary.
The book’s not perfect — it struggles a bit when it tries to graft a slightly ridiculous crime plot onto a frame that’s too lithe to support it— but it hardly matters because of Joe’s irresistible enthusiasm and Neihart’s glittering prose. (Also, the book is really sexy, but maybe it’s gross to say that now that Joe’s about fifteen years too young for me.)
Bennett Madison‘s books include September Girls and The Blonde of the Joke.