Review & Giveaway: Haskell Himself

Haskell Himself
Gary Seigel
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication date: January 19th, 2020
Genres: Historical, LGBTQ+, Young Adult
Meet Haskell Hodge. At sixteen he’s already garnered some fame as a former child actor and star of a popular cereal commercial. But that doesn’t do much for him when he’s dumped at his aunt’s house in the suburbs of Los Angeles to face an assortment of neighborhood bullies.
He thinks he might be gay. In fact, he could be the only gay person in the valley, maybe on the entire planet. Even if he does manage to find a boyfriend, their relationship would have to be secret and invisible.
After all it’s 1966. And though Time Magazine claims the sexual revolution is in full swing, the freedoms straight people are enjoying don’t seem to apply to everyone. And as much as Haskell attempts to hide his true self, carefully navigating the tricky and risky terrain of being queer, he’s still taunted and teased relentlessly.
Rather than give in to the irrationality of this hate, Haskell fights back, eventually finding an unlikely outlet to vent his frustration and angst—playing a bully in a screen test for a major motion picture. If he plays his cards right, it could catapult him into Hollywood stardom.
Of course, like most things in life, it comes with a heavy price Haskell’s not certain he’s willing to pay.

Gary Seigel was raised in Encino, California where his debut novel, Haskell Himself, takes place. After completing a PhD in English at Rutgers University, Gary taught at several colleges and universities, but his most memorable experience was a brief 12 week stint at the same high school he (and Haskell) graduated from, teaching side by side with some of the same teachers he once endured. Currently, Gary gives grammar and proofreading classes to business professionals eager to write error-free emails. He also has spent the past two decades helping employees control their inner jerk when texting or holding conversations with an impossible boss. His book The Mouth Trap: Strategies, Tips and Secrets for Keeping Your Feet out of Your Mouth, published in 2008, has been translated into over a dozen languages. He is the father of three sons and currently lives in South Pasadena.

When I picked up my Kindle to start reading Haskell Himself, I didn't have very high expectations. Having not read many LGBTQ+ books before, I was more hoping to get more diverse stories in my reading year, and the Hollywood-themed 60's story was an added bonus.

From the beginning, I felt immersed in the acting lessons and the choices Haskell makes to get himself on the path of becoming an actor like his own parents. I resonated with being raised by a single mom and a not-so-much-caring father who lives in another part of the country and I felt sympathetic to Haskell having to pretty much take care of himself. 

The book is set after the Sexual Revolution takes place, but being gay is still considered a crime and getting discovered would end Haskell's acting career before it even starts. This situation adds a lot of pressure and frustration as the teenaged boy is trying to discover his sexuality and identity. The drama is multiplied when his mother announces her departure with her married boyfriend and the news bomb that he has to leave New York in his final year of high school and move to LA to live with his aunt's family.

Being a nerd, a former child actor, having starred in a popular cereal commercial and refusing to help the star-athlete cheat for a school assignment at his new high school, he quickly becomes the target of bullies and cruel pranks. But the story is not all drama, because Haskell manages to find true friends in this incredibly difficult situation and great acting opportunities arise.

Haskell Himself is very well written, engaging and unique. The characters are complex, they all have their own driving force, they make mistakes and become better versions of themselves. I definitely recommend this book.

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