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I’m So Hip I Can’t See Over My Belt

The newest Russel Middlebrook novel. He's a lot wiser than when we met him in Geography Club, but no cooler.

I’m So Hip I Can’t See Over My Belt

BOOK REPORT for The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know by Brent Hartinger

Cover Story: Biggest Erection in Seattle
Drinking Buddy: Whiskey Sour
Testosterone Level: Casual Encounters
Talky Talk: It's an Obscure Rating, You've Probably Never Heard of It
Bonus Factors: LGBTQ, Bigfoot
Bromance Status: The Old Flame Who I Can't Quite Forget

Cover Story: Biggest Erection in Seattle

Also, you can see the Space Needle behind them.

The Deal:

We first met Russel Middlebrook back in Geography Club, when he was a teenager, struggling with coming out. Several books later, Russel is now twenty-three. He's living on his buddy Gunnar's houseboat, along with Min, his other high school pal.

Gunnar and Min seem to have their lives together. Gunnar's made a fortune in the tech business and is now free to pursue his various oddball obsessions. Min is doing great in graduate school. Only Russel seems at a loss. He's working at a lifeguard, still not sure what he wants to do with his life. He hasn't dated anyone since he and his boyfriend Kevin drifted apart during college. He's forced to use Craigslist casual encounters ads to find 'dates.'

And then, one day, he realizes Kevin has moved to Seattle. They've both grown up so much since they've last seen each other. Surely, things will work out now.

Too bad Kevin's live-in boyfriend doesn't see things that way.

Drinking Buddy: Whiskey Sour

While lifeguarding, Russel saves the life of an older woman named Vernie, who turns out to be an ex-Hollywood screenwriter. She kind of adopts Russel as a surrogate son (her children are estranged), while Russel enjoys having a mother figure who isn't ashamed of his sexuality. Vernie tells him everyone should have a signature drink, and suggests the whiskey sour. Russel isn't quite sure. It's a good drink, but it isn't who he is.

That kind of sums up Russel's life, as well as the lives of a lot of twenty-somethings. What do I want to do with my life? Am I ever going to find direction? Where's that special someone?

Testoserone Level: Casual Encounters

Russel is drowning his sorrows by occasionally sleeping with random internet guys. But he longs for a stable relationship, something where he doesn't have to awkwardly slink home in the morning. I kind of feel sorry for his partners, the way they have to listen to him talk about his ex instead of getting naked and funky.

Poor Russel just can't get a break in the romance department. He goes to dinner at Kevin's house, then has to sit there as Kevin's handsome, rich boyfriend seethes at him all night. Vernie sets Russel up on a date. Things go so well that he's already making the wedding guest list when he finds out the guy is a smoker. And a Republican. And keeps a loaded pistol on the coffee table.

Keep at it, Russel. You'll find your soulmate.

Talky Talk: It's an Obscure Rating, You've Probably Never Heard of It

Seattle: Birthplace of Starbucks, Jimi Hendrix, and everything else that is cool. Except for Russel. He also works at this funky bakery where you make your own bread, lives on a houseboat, and has the whole twenty-something hipster thing going on. But what he longs for is a little direction, and someone he can snuggle with. Someone named Kevin.

It's nice that this book series has grown up along with Russel. The sex scenes make it unsuitable for younger readers, but I'd be disappointed if Russel stayed in high school forever. He's a big boy now, fumbling through a world where being gay isn't a problem. It's what comes after.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Russel is far beyond the age where he had to hide who he is. His parents, while not in love with his sexuality, know that it's not going to change. Seattle is a great city to be young and gay. So why can't Kevin just accept this and pick out a wedding photographer?

Meanwhile, bisexual Min has been hanging out with a couple of students, a guy and a girl. Is there romance in the air? And with whom? Why is everyone whispering and getting quiet when Russel enters the boat?

Like Russel, this series has become more mature over time. While in Geography Club Russel was snatching his innocent first kiss, now he's...much more grown up. While the book is not explicit, there are certain scenes that would garner an R rating.

Incidentally, author Brent Hartinger is a big advocate for sexual responsibility and HIV prevention in the homosexual community. He wrote a free Russel Middlebrook short story on the subject, which is totally NC-17.

Incidentally, I just googled the word 'incidentally' to figure out how to spell it, and the first suggested search was 'incidentally homosexual.' I may be on to something.

Bonus Factor: Bigfoot

So Gunnar has always kind of been into odd hobbies, and with his newfound cash he can now pursue his latest obsession: tracking Bigfoot. He joins a club, does research, even drags Russel off into the woods to follow up a lead.

Except...he seems a little too serious about this. Russel and Min start to worry. Is Gunnar just being his regular zany self...or is there something worrying going on in his head?

Bromance Status: The Old Flame Who I Can't Quite Forget

That was back in high school. I only read it for Geography class. Yeah, I read the sequels, but that didn't mean anything. Just a light read...

Shit. Here they are, right on Amazon. Probably don't even remember me.

But still...

Full disclosure: Got a free copy of this book from the author. Also, I stole the title of this review from a Douglas Adams book.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.