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Blackbird (Little Sister's Classics)

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First published by St. Martin’s in 1986, Blackbird is a funny, moving, gay coming-of-age novel about growing up black and gay in Southern California. The lead character, Johnnie Ray Rousseau, is a high school student upset at losing the lead role in the school staging of Romeo and Juliet; if that weren’t enough, his best friend has been beaten badly by his father, and his First published by St. Martin’s in 1986, Blackbird is a funny, moving, gay coming-of-age novel about growing up black and gay in Southern California. The lead character, Johnnie Ray Rousseau, is a high school student upset at losing the lead role in the school staging of Romeo and Juliet; if that weren’t enough, his best friend has been beaten badly by his father, and his girlfriend is pressuring him to have sex for the first time. All the while, he’s intrigued by Marshall MacNeill, a fellow drama class member who’s surely the sexiest man to walk God’s green earth—at least according to Johnnie Ray. This novel of adolescent awakening is as fresh and heartfelt as it was when first published. Features an introduction by Michael Nava.


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First published by St. Martin’s in 1986, Blackbird is a funny, moving, gay coming-of-age novel about growing up black and gay in Southern California. The lead character, Johnnie Ray Rousseau, is a high school student upset at losing the lead role in the school staging of Romeo and Juliet; if that weren’t enough, his best friend has been beaten badly by his father, and his First published by St. Martin’s in 1986, Blackbird is a funny, moving, gay coming-of-age novel about growing up black and gay in Southern California. The lead character, Johnnie Ray Rousseau, is a high school student upset at losing the lead role in the school staging of Romeo and Juliet; if that weren’t enough, his best friend has been beaten badly by his father, and his girlfriend is pressuring him to have sex for the first time. All the while, he’s intrigued by Marshall MacNeill, a fellow drama class member who’s surely the sexiest man to walk God’s green earth—at least according to Johnnie Ray. This novel of adolescent awakening is as fresh and heartfelt as it was when first published. Features an introduction by Michael Nava.

30 review for Blackbird (Little Sister's Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rena

    I see why this is a classic gay novel. For me, Johnnie Ray Rousseau is right up there with Raymond Tyler (Invisible Life) and Mitchell Crawford (B-Boy Blues) in terms of beloved gay black male characters. He's smart, sensitive and confident in a way that is endearing. I want to pick up all of Larry Duplechan's subsequent books that feature Johnnie Ray. I see why this is a classic gay novel. For me, Johnnie Ray Rousseau is right up there with Raymond Tyler (Invisible Life) and Mitchell Crawford (B-Boy Blues) in terms of beloved gay black male characters. He's smart, sensitive and confident in a way that is endearing. I want to pick up all of Larry Duplechan's subsequent books that feature Johnnie Ray.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Buffy

    I have to admit to myself and confess that I love gay coming of age novels! There I said it! I’ve read a lot of them. Partly I love that they address a life I could have had growing up if only things — politics, culture, history — were a little different. I was shocked reading this novel, published in the 80’s, that I’d never really heard of it. It ranks for me as one of the best gay coming of age novels I’ve ever read. Part of it is personal, of course. Johnnie Ray, the protagonist is my age, s I have to admit to myself and confess that I love gay coming of age novels! There I said it! I’ve read a lot of them. Partly I love that they address a life I could have had growing up if only things — politics, culture, history — were a little different. I was shocked reading this novel, published in the 80’s, that I’d never really heard of it. It ranks for me as one of the best gay coming of age novels I’ve ever read. Part of it is personal, of course. Johnnie Ray, the protagonist is my age, so he was in high school when I was in high school. So many things about him were similar to my own loves and inclinations — Joni Mitchell, the Beatles. I could not put this book down. There was so much depth accomplished within a relatively short number of pages.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Manytravels

    Blackbird fills to the brim with compassion, understanding, authenticity and insightful perceptions. Its storyline tells of a young man's coming of age and coming to face the reality of his sexual orientation against the backdrop of an environment where judgments of others supersedes any understanding or acceptance of others. This book's many sub-themes each feel accurate and believable: the story and fate of the teenage couple who've 'made a baby,' the teachers who fail at teaching, the racism t Blackbird fills to the brim with compassion, understanding, authenticity and insightful perceptions. Its storyline tells of a young man's coming of age and coming to face the reality of his sexual orientation against the backdrop of an environment where judgments of others supersedes any understanding or acceptance of others. This book's many sub-themes each feel accurate and believable: the story and fate of the teenage couple who've 'made a baby,' the teachers who fail at teaching, the racism the hurts target and victim both, the homophobia that condemns the hater and the hated, the church that fails at Christianity and the many parents who have failed at truly parenting their children. The book has many sad stories within it. Teenage suicide, teenage pregnancy, racial divide and others. While the main theme of the book deals with a young man coming to terms with his own sexuality, a frightful experience for all teenagers, straight or gay, the sub-theme that stuck me most dealt with how religion becomes a tool and excuse for hatred, judgment, condemnation and stupidity strong enough to allow parents to disavow their own children. In fact, the book's most insightful and stinging prose deals with this use of religious belief to justify personal judgment, "I just couldn't believe that the God who made me what I am could be any more displeased with me for not being heterosexual than for not being tall." It is not God who is displeased, it is the people who pretend to speak for his authority.Meister Eckhardt summed it up thusly: "God does not love you because of who you are, but because of who He is." I believe the author intended a tale not about racism or homophobia, but about the impacts of judgments, hatreds, prejudices and sanctimonious self-righteousness, the excuses used to justify these reprehensible behaviors (chiefly religion), and the extent to which they harm. It is a powerful, insightful book. It is a must read by all readers, not because its theme is homosexuality, but because it is humanity; humanity at its best, and humanity at its worst.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    Although at times a little ridiculous (Carolann/Crystal?) and perhaps a little overloaded with subplots, Blackbird is for the most part a lighthearted, fun coming of age novel. Johnnie Ray is unapologetically himself (a feat in itself for a YA protagonist, let alone an African-American, homosexual, teenage-boy coming of age in the late 1970s) and this novel is an interesting portrait of a few months of his life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Powanda

    Sweet coming-of-age story of Johnnie Ray Rousseau, a gay black teen in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 1974. Johnny knows he's gay, but he hasn't come out to his friends or family yet. His gayness is more important to his identity than his blackness. In fact, most of his friends are white, and he's sexually attracted to blonde boys. Johnnie is a singer, and there are many musical references throughout the book; the title is from the famous Beatles song (from The White Album). When Johnnie is turne Sweet coming-of-age story of Johnnie Ray Rousseau, a gay black teen in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 1974. Johnny knows he's gay, but he hasn't come out to his friends or family yet. His gayness is more important to his identity than his blackness. In fact, most of his friends are white, and he's sexually attracted to blonde boys. Johnnie is a singer, and there are many musical references throughout the book; the title is from the famous Beatles song (from The White Album). When Johnnie is turned down for the lead in the high school play, he auditions for a J.C. drama and meets a 24-year-old film student, Marshall MacNeil. Marshall becomes Johnnie's first love. The book throws in several unneeded subplots about teen pregnancy, suicide, multiple personality disorder, and parental abuse, but Rousseau's endearing narrative voice holds everything together and makes this novel consistently moving and enjoyable. Johnnie's fictional life story continues in Duplechan's four other novels, the most recent being Got 'Til It's Gone. The novel Blackbird was loosely adapted into a movie starring Mo'Nique in 2014.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Milan/zzz

    Recently I’ve read somewhere that all coming-of-age stories are sort of “Catcher in the Rye”. Indeed “Blackbird” reminded me on the “Catcher” (it was mentioned in the book as well) but with one huge difference: I hated “Catcher in the Rye”; I’ve found Holden Caulfield as THE most irritating fictional character I’ve ever met. The conclusion might be that I hated “Blackbird” and its main character Johnnie Ray Rousseau as well. On the contrary: While I was reading “Blackbird” I couldn’t get rid of Recently I’ve read somewhere that all coming-of-age stories are sort of “Catcher in the Rye”. Indeed “Blackbird” reminded me on the “Catcher” (it was mentioned in the book as well) but with one huge difference: I hated “Catcher in the Rye”; I’ve found Holden Caulfield as THE most irritating fictional character I’ve ever met. The conclusion might be that I hated “Blackbird” and its main character Johnnie Ray Rousseau as well. On the contrary: While I was reading “Blackbird” I couldn’t get rid of the feeling (as blasphemous as it probably is) that “this must what “Catcher in the Rye” supposed to be!” It’s a YA novel with such a likable main character. Jonnie Ray is obsessed with pop culture and therefore I had a feeling that this book is an homage to music and film (or should I say movie?) industry of the mid 20th century. Of course that can’t be since the novel has been published 23 years ago. But the music references (after all the novel itself has been named after the song of The Beatles) made me doing little search since my knowledge wasn’t that high leveled. “Blackbird” is so sentimental novel; the plot is simple but the language is beautiful. I was bursting out laughing in the public transport (and earned several strange who-still-reads-book-anyway looks); I simply love Duplechan’s sense for humour (which tells lot about me since the book is from 1986). I’ve read about the novel that it has character which I can’t agree more. He [Johnnie Ray:] is so sincere when he talks about his emotions about people that he loves and about those he fantasize. His descriptions of longing, first touch and then sex are so real so honest, never augmented and never sensationalistic as if it was allowed you to peek thru the keyhole. They are just they really are. You can really recognize the feeling. Of course regardless of sexual orientation. I almost forgot to mention that Jonnie Ray is homosexual which is not big deal but then one should keep in mind when the novel is published and the plot is settled in the mid 1970s in rigid Baptist American small town where “black boy can’t kiss a white girl” (parents would immediately send her on the other coast) and that image of small American town I liked a lot [not the town but the way it has been described:]. The way society handled with teen pregnancy, homo (and hetero) sexuality, religion, teen suicide, queer bashing, child abuse, has been described fantastically. It’s sad that those methods and that way of public thinking can be still found nowadays. This was fast and easy read in which I really enjoyed. Little Sister’s Classics. is doing great job re-publishing novels that have left traits in gay/lesbian literature when it wasn’t easy publish books that have any drop of homoeroticism. Of course from present perspective you can even ask yourself why it was big deal to publish novel like this or even skip the fact that main character is homosexual (like I almost did with this one) but I presume than the they were pioneers. I really like appendixes that are included in these new "Little Sister’s Classics" editions with letter correspondence between author and publisher, reviews in newspapers when the novel has been published and interviews with the author. It helps a lot to the reader to create full picture about the time when novel appeared.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Charles Smith

    "While reading "Blackbird," Larry Duplechan's second romantic gay comic novel, the term 'crossover' kept springing to mind. It's obvious that Duplechan sees no value in writing about a totally or predominantly black milieu. As in "Eight Days a Week," the main character is Johnny Ray Rousseau, who is black and gay. However, this time we see him five years earlier when he was an 18-year-old high school student in a small Southern California town. If Larry Duplechan were a much more careful writer, a "While reading "Blackbird," Larry Duplechan's second romantic gay comic novel, the term 'crossover' kept springing to mind. It's obvious that Duplechan sees no value in writing about a totally or predominantly black milieu. As in "Eight Days a Week," the main character is Johnny Ray Rousseau, who is black and gay. However, this time we see him five years earlier when he was an 18-year-old high school student in a small Southern California town. If Larry Duplechan were a much more careful writer, a lot of the inconsistencies that appear [in the book] would have been greatly reduced, particularly the more obvious bits of information, some of it carryovers from the first book. For example, whatever happened to David, his younger brother, who because he was better-looking, played a significant role in how Johnny Ray viewed himself? It would be refreshing,for a change, if Duplechan stopped trying to be an assimilationist, and took pride in being of African descent." The excerpt is from a review I wrote for The New York Student (a City University of New York publication) that was published in the summer of 1987 and I reprinted on my blog www.urbanbookmaven.blogspot.com (October 19, 2012) under the title "Johnny Ray Rousseau's Mostly White World."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    Really good! The main character is a young, gay, black teen, and his descriptions of high school somehow manage to be simultaneously witty and scarily accurate. The humor is what makes the book for me. I am so sick and f***ing tired of gay coming of age stories that are one big trail of tears. "I was bullied all through high school. My boyfriend committed suicide. My parents kicked me out." Like, I lived through some of that, why the hell would I want to do it again willingly, for fun? But Black Really good! The main character is a young, gay, black teen, and his descriptions of high school somehow manage to be simultaneously witty and scarily accurate. The humor is what makes the book for me. I am so sick and f***ing tired of gay coming of age stories that are one big trail of tears. "I was bullied all through high school. My boyfriend committed suicide. My parents kicked me out." Like, I lived through some of that, why the hell would I want to do it again willingly, for fun? But Blackbird takes this story and makes it seem human. Like sure, bad stuff happens, but through it all it's presented in a stoic, witty, realistic light. Basically, I liked this book because Johnnie Ray's experiences were so similar to my own in high school and beyond, and it was not presented as a story with an unhappy ending.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    While I think that Duplechan's novel is a touchstone of queer literature, I must also argue that it's neither spotless nor terribly contemporary. Notes: I'm surprised I missed the boat on identifying Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth as a queer masterpiece. Johnnie Ray's a little self-centered in ways that I find distracting to the overall story. This may be apt, given his age, but it made his voice tedious at times. This book, like any other number of books by gay male authors from the 60s, 7 While I think that Duplechan's novel is a touchstone of queer literature, I must also argue that it's neither spotless nor terribly contemporary. Notes: I'm surprised I missed the boat on identifying Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth as a queer masterpiece. Johnnie Ray's a little self-centered in ways that I find distracting to the overall story. This may be apt, given his age, but it made his voice tedious at times. This book, like any other number of books by gay male authors from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, is rather limited in its politics, defaulting to ableism and fatphobia for quick and easy humor. So it goes. The narrative suffers from two important, but mishandled, digressions that should've been earlier in the novel. Without giving away too much, these digressions involve a description of The Exorcist and Grady Pass, a part of the novel's setting. I was afraid that things would be too tidy at the end, and they mostly were, though Duplechan's work in the last chapter really shines and overall made me happy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Annalisa

    Pros: a black coming out story where none of the gays died! Compelling enough to make me want to keep reading even when I found things nonsensical, and many of the more difficult topics were fairly well handled. Cons: The prison rape fantasy in the play seemed badly handled (no examination at all of why that is a totally inappropriate thing, although the play DID get canceled) and completely unnecessary, though thankfully brief. Not sure what to make of the characterization of Crystal/Carolann, Pros: a black coming out story where none of the gays died! Compelling enough to make me want to keep reading even when I found things nonsensical, and many of the more difficult topics were fairly well handled. Cons: The prison rape fantasy in the play seemed badly handled (no examination at all of why that is a totally inappropriate thing, although the play DID get canceled) and completely unnecessary, though thankfully brief. Not sure what to make of the characterization of Crystal/Carolann, though since I don't have a split personality myself, I can't say for certain if any of that is actually offensive or just not particularly well written.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Salazar

    Definitely underdeveloped. The author has potential, though.

  12. 4 out of 5

    AGMaynard

    Pretty well-done coming-of-age story. Dark moments not heavily dwelled upon. Ground-breaking for its time of publication.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bianca Rose

    I enjoyed this book. It was written very simply and eloquently. It covers a variety of issues as well as homosexuality & racism which are spoken about in the blurb. I don't want to ruin the story for anyone so won't go into too much detail. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it as a good read. That said, I would caution that there are a few chapters that contain quite graphic sexual scenes so if that bothers you, this may not be the best book to read. One criticism I will voice is that I f I enjoyed this book. It was written very simply and eloquently. It covers a variety of issues as well as homosexuality & racism which are spoken about in the blurb. I don't want to ruin the story for anyone so won't go into too much detail. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it as a good read. That said, I would caution that there are a few chapters that contain quite graphic sexual scenes so if that bothers you, this may not be the best book to read. One criticism I will voice is that I found that the main character seemed to sexualise every male character in the book which I do question. Is this realistic? Does it perpetuate the old myth that homosexuals find all members of the same sex attractive? Having never been a 17 year old boy or read any of Larry Duplechan's other works, I really can't comment on whether this is realistic or is Duplechan's style of writing. I had expected that the sexualisation of all male characters would diminish once Johnnie Ray found other homosexual men that he could connect with and felt more confident in his own sense of self that the sexualisation would decrease. It did reduce slightly just not to the extent that I expected.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    A friend gave this to me to read; it's apparently the first YA novel about a gay African American male. It's hilariously dated in some ways (is very much set in the early 1970s), but still pretty progressive in other ways, even by today's standards. (This was published in 1986.) My friend called it Judy Blume-esque, which it is--it's starkly honest and personal, and quite possibly TMI for conservative readers, so it's a worthwhile read. ;-) A friend gave this to me to read; it's apparently the first YA novel about a gay African American male. It's hilariously dated in some ways (is very much set in the early 1970s), but still pretty progressive in other ways, even by today's standards. (This was published in 1986.) My friend called it Judy Blume-esque, which it is--it's starkly honest and personal, and quite possibly TMI for conservative readers, so it's a worthwhile read. ;-)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eriynn

    poignant and hilarious coming of age African American literature. sexuality is parallel to the main narrative i kept forgetting the main character is coming to terms with his sexuality. one is drawn in by the characters surroundings then reminded of his sexuality so subtly. wonderfully entertaining, endearing, yet an affirmation to those whom can relate. happened upon it on a Tuesday evening, by Thursday morning i had covered it! lol... i loved it!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I don't normally like "coming of age" books and I only read this one because I liked Duplechan's book Tangled Up in Blue so much. Blackbird just didn't hold my interest because I didn't care for the main character Johnnie Ray or his friends. Johnnie Ray spent the majority of the book doing three things: feeling sorry for himself, wanking, and fantasizing about dudes. There was no real story here. I don't normally like "coming of age" books and I only read this one because I liked Duplechan's book Tangled Up in Blue so much. Blackbird just didn't hold my interest because I didn't care for the main character Johnnie Ray or his friends. Johnnie Ray spent the majority of the book doing three things: feeling sorry for himself, wanking, and fantasizing about dudes. There was no real story here.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    If you are a (young) gay man and in for an uplifting read, than this could be your pick. This is a lovely pulp novel on first love and first sex (gorgeously big servings of both), the stuff that turns a rainy cold autumn Sunday into a tropical holiday of sorts.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I read this after watching the recent movie adaptation (which was quite different but also enjoyable).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Sweet, funny, sexy, sad, Johnny Ray's story is not for everyone, but I found it a wonderful read. Sweet, funny, sexy, sad, Johnny Ray's story is not for everyone, but I found it a wonderful read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rayne

    Not exceptional; not terrible. Very middling. Meh.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eleny

    A good coming of age book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Braeden

    Blunt, dramatic, and enjoyable coming of age novel.

  23. 5 out of 5

    chester phillips

  24. 4 out of 5

    James Bazen

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

  26. 5 out of 5

    J-L

  27. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  29. 4 out of 5

    Todd Smith

  30. 5 out of 5

    Colin Hammar

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