‘Split Screen’ by Brent Hartinger
Author: Bill Burleson
July 21, 2009
Will Min and Leah make it as a couple, even though Leah, the beautiful cheerleader, is in the closet, much to the chagrin of out-and-proud Min? Will Russel stay with Otto, whom he loves but lives a thousand miles away, or will he go back to his first love, Kevin Land, the popular high school jock?
Young adult literature has come a long way, baby.
Author Brent Hartinger has tapped into that change in a big way with a series of books for teens from a LGBT perspective. And he has done it with both warmth and intelligent story-telling.
In 2007, Hartinger’s book Split Screen won a Lambda Literary Award in the Bisexual category. Split Screen is the third book in a series that began with Geography Club (a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in 2003), followed by The Order of the Poison Oak.
Split Screen explores priorities–what it means to be true to oneself and the tradeoffs people make—all built on a foundation of the importance of support from friends. It features a continuing cast of characters focused on three friends from Robert L Goodkind High School: Russel, the protagonist from the Geography Club and quintessential gay teen navigating his sexuality, Min, an outspoken bisexual, and Gunnar, a straight and perhaps somewhat Asperger’s ally.
The book is actually two stories built on the same situation but told in the first person from two different points of view. Split Screen: Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies and Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Zombies are back to back, with instructions to “flip the book!” Often a device like this can be really annoying; however, it works here because each of the stories stands up quite well on their own.
In Bride we join 16 year old Min lamenting her lack of a partner: “I would have been ok with either a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I didn’t have either one, however, so I was feeling a little excluded.” This all changes when Min, Russel, and Gunnar spots a flyer, “‘Zombies Wanted!'” looking for teen extras for a horror movie. On the set Min meets Leah, a girl from another school. They hit it off. However, there’s a problem: Leah is in the closet, something Min has been very outspoken against in the past.
It is the strength of Min’s character that led to its winning the Bisexual category at the Lambda Awards. She is drawn by Hartinger as an intelligent, complex, and ultimately compelling young woman. The fact that she articulates many of the issues that bisexuals face traveling in the LGBT community didn’t hurt, either.
The other story reunites Russel and Kevin Land, whose relationship was the subject of Geography Club. They meet again on the movie set and Russel has to square his old feelings for Kevin within the reality of his new boyfriend.
As with all good teen lit, Split Screen is much more than either mere fluff or thinly veiled lectures. As with all good continuing series, it stands on its own two feet. And as with all good LGBT literature, it transcends the category offering something for everyone. Simply put, Hartinger’s work is an enjoyable, compelling, and well-told story.
Read William Burleson’s conversation with Brent Hartinger.
Hardcover, $16.99, 304p