From acclaimed author Phil Stamper (The Gravity of Us and As Far as You’ll Take Me) comes a poignant coming-of-age, contemporary middle grade debut novel about finding your place, using your voice, and the true meaning of pride. Perfect for fans of Rick by Alex Gino and The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy.
Jake is just starting to enjoy life as his school’s first openly gay kid. While his family and friends are accepting and supportive, the same can’t be said about everyone in their small town of Barton Springs, Ohio.
When Jake’s dad hangs a comically large pride flag in their front yard in an overblown show of love, the mayor begins to receive complaints. A few people are even concerned the flag will lead to something truly outlandish: a pride parade.
Except Jake doesn’t think that’s a ridiculous idea. Why can’t they hold a pride festival in Barton Springs? The problem is, Jake knows he’ll have to get approval from the town council, and the mayor won’t be on his side. And as Jake and his friends try to find a way to bring Pride to Barton Springs, it seems suspicious that the mayor’s son, Brett, suddenly wants to spend time with Jake.
But someone that cute couldn’t possibly be in league with his mayoral mother, could he?
I’ve read and enjoyed Stamper’s YA books, so I was very excited about the opportunity to read his middle grade debut.
After finishing the book, I had to go over to Stamper’s website to look at his bio. I am not at all surprised that he grew up in a village in Ohio because he totally nailed small town life: the factions, everybody knowing everyone’s business, divisive local elections—they were all perfectly on display in the narrative.
Jake is a sweetheart of a protagonist. He’s content with doing his own thing, but his dad putting up the Pride flag helps Jake realize that he shouldn’t have to live in the margins of society. He has the support of his parents and his best friend, and is surprised to find additional support from his classmate and neighbor, who just happens to be the mayor’s son.
This book works well as a middle grade as opposed to a YA title. To put it delicately, the hormones haven’t kicked in yet, so Jake isn’t interested in finding a boyfriend; he just wants to live his life and express who he is. And while there are poignant moments, there isn’t a ton of teenage angst. That said, as the mother of two 7th graders and one 9th grader, Jake does come off a bit “young” for an 8th grader, but he is completely perfect as a middle grade protagonist.
I would absolutely recommend Small Town Pride to middle grade readers and younger YA readers. This is a heartwarming book with a positive message about being yourself and finding your place in the world. I especially enjoyed the scenes where Jake plays his favorite video game Songbird Hollow. Seeing an homage to my favorite video game—Stardew Valley—put a smile on my face. Having Jake use Songbird Hollow to express what he wants out of life was so sweet, and I loved all the gameplay details Stamper managed to work into the narrative. I will be seeking out my own copy of this book to add to our collection of queer YA/middle grade fiction.
I received a digital ARC of this book from HarperCollins Children’s Books/NetGalley.