Read This! Excerpt of James Sie’s All Kinds of Other
Author: Edit Team
July 27, 2021
James Sie’s YA literary debut, All Kinds of Other, was published by Quill Tree Books/Harper Collins on May 4th. A luminous coming-of-age love story about two teenage boys named Jules and Jack—Jules is cis, and Jack is trans—All Kinds of Other is an engrossing, poignant novel that will touch hearts and minds alike. The following excerpt is an audio recording of the book’s opening chapter, told from the point of view of Jules, and narrated by Sie himself.
James Sie (he/him) is the author of Still Life Las Vegas, which was a Lambda Literary Award nominee for Best Gay Fiction. He has contributed essays to The Rumpus and The Advocate. Sie is also a voiceover artist for many cartoons and games, including Stillwater, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, where his excessive love of cabbages has earned him immortal fame.
The words just won’t come out.
I mean, I’m not much of a talker to begin with, but still. It’s not like I don’t know what I want to say. “Guess what, guys, I’m gay.” Easy. I can actually feel the words crowding around inside my mouth, pushing against my teeth, waiting to be released. When Dhyllin invited Gregg and me over for an end-of-the-summer hang, I was hoping to introduce them to this new-and-improved Jules, out and proud. I’d erase the memory of my pathetic coming out to my mother in the front seat of the family Subaru and replace it with something better, cooler. Reboot the second year of my high school life.
But I can’t. Partly it’s because I’m worried what they’re gonna think and partly, it’s that Dhyllin just won’t shut up. Yes, we all know Dhyllin has an exciting life, the best life, anyone would kill for a concert promoter father with a Hollywood Hills mansion, but if he doesn’t stop talking about traveling this summer with Smash Mouth on their official 2015 tour, I’m seriously going to need to drink bleach.
“I thought Lisbon was wild, but I’m telling you, Jules, when we hit Amsterdam, that place was off the chain. . . .”
I mean, how was my news going to compare to that? Coming out just doesn’t measure up to groupies in Berlin and private jets. Not these days. But if I can’t tell friends I’ve known for years, how am I going to tell strangers? Maybe strangers would be easier. There wouldn’t be so much on the line, so many expectations—
“Earth to Jules, hello.”
I jolt back to the present, start dribbling the basketball again. “What did you say?” I ask, trying to cover, but Dhyllin’s already given up on me and is checking out his Snapchat feed. Gregg’s playing on his phone, as usual. No one’s talking. It’d be the perfect moment. Each bounce of the ball leaving my hands is like a command: Tell them. Tell them. But I can’t. It’s tricky with Dhyllin. Not that he would punch me or call me out or anything like that. No, he’d just look at me with those sleepy blue eyes and say something casually sarcastic like, “Well, that was no mystery,” or “That explains a lot”—which would somehow be just as bad.
Without looking up, Dhyllin asks, “Are we going to keep shooting hoops or do you guys want to play Xbox?”
Gregg finally disconnects from his phone. “Hell YES Xbox.”
I’ve never really been that into gaming. But everyone else is, so I shrug. “Whatever is cool with me.”
Dhyllin doesn’t move, though, and inertia sets in. We keep shooting hoops on the blue acrylic of Dhyllin’s dad’s basketball court. Well, I keep shooting hoops. Gregg’s camped out just outside the key, dodging any ball that falls near him and smashing aliens on his phone, his straight black hair covering most of his face as he bends his head down. Dhyllin’s off to the other side, texting, wearing some fresh Yeezy Boosts that look like they just came out of the box. I dribble and shoot around both of them, a moon orbiting two fixed planets in a sky-blue space.
We haven’t been in the same school together since fifth grade. We mostly see each other during the summer, old habits. I wonder if we have anything in common at all anymore.
Dhyllin looks up suddenly and squints at me, blond hair flopped over one eye. “You’re not going to like Earl Warren High,” he tells me.
“How would you know?” I say, pretending to throw the ball at him. He doesn’t even flinch. “Why?”
“It’s public,” Dhyllin says, as if that explains everything.
“And . . . ?”
“You’re not used to that. It’s a huge school. And coming in sophomore year? You’ll be lost.” He says this like he’s really concerned, like he didn’t spend the whole last year icing me out while he spent time with his new posse at Beckman Prep. Dhyllin lowers his voice. “And there are gangs there. They’re gonna eat you alive.”
“You don’t know that,” I say, but really, Dhyllin’s the kind of kid who does know things. He’s always picking up adult frequencies, decoding them, and translating the data for the rest of us. “I’ll be fine,” I say, trying to sound like I mean it. “Look, Gregg goes there, and he hasn’t been jumped.”
Dhyllin smirks. “That’s because they’re afraid he’s going to use karate on them.”
Gregg gives him a fast middle finger without even stopping his game. “Karate’s Japanese, dickwad. Get your racial stereotypes right.”
“What about the gangs?” I ask.
Gregg shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” His head slumps back to his phone.
“Yeah, whatever.” Dhyllin flips his blond hair off his eyes. He’s recently had a growth spurt; well, his head has, anyway. It looks huge, square and man-shaped on his teenage boy’s body, the opposite of me, whose legs and arms seem to have beanstalked overnight. Funny thing though—Dhyllin, even out of proportion and with that one red pimple cluster blotching his forehead, still has the superpower of making you feel like he’s the coolest kid in the room. He’s still the magnet that draws in all us rusty nails.
“You should come to Beckman Prep. Good basketball team,” he says. Beckman Prep is, naturally, the most exclusive private high school in the Valley. If it were up to my dad, I would have gone to Beckman my freshman year, but the decision was most definitely not up to him.
“And there’s some pretty hot babes there, too. You have no idea.”
I don’t. I really have no idea. Or, you know, interest.
“It’s a great school. You should totally go there.” Dhyllin’s lost his sleepiness. He sounds excited by the idea. There’s some- thing in his eyes that tugs at my chest, something from the past, a memory, not really a memory, more a feeling: the three of us in elementary school, running through Dhyllin’s backyard (not this one, his mother’s), spinning around with lightsabers, Jedi robes flowing behind us. That excitement. Dhyllin’s mom and dad were still together then, and so were mine. Plastic lightsaber smash- ing into plastic lightsaber, Anakin and Plo Koon and Qui-Gon, high-pitched death squeals, until Dhyllin was tired of dying and he would shrug off his robe and say, “That’s not what happens in the movie,” and we would immediately throw down our sabers and join him, so what did he want to do now?—
“—Hey, Jules, reboot.”
I jerk back into focus. “What?”
Dhyllin rolls his eyes. “I said, see what I got?” He slides a black metal cartridge out of the pocket of his skinny jeans. “Strawberry shortcake. Wanna hit?”
Of course Dhyllin vapes.
“Nah,” I say, then add, “Not right now.” I turn away and shoot. Swish. Fourth basket in a row. The ball bounces right by Gregg, who doesn’t even notice. “High score!” he shouts into his phone. “Suck it!”
“I am so bored,” Dhyllin says, and I know I’ve given him the wrong answer. He slides the cartridge back into his pocket and starts texting.
A moon and two fixed planets, with lots of space in between.
From the house, there’s the sound of a sliding door opening. I look over and see Dhyllin’s dad coming out onto the patio with another man, laughing. The two men are about the same age, but the other man’s dressed way more casually, in a Pirates T-shirt and shorts. He grabs Dhyllin’s dad by the shoulder and points at something on the patio. They both laugh again.
Dhyllin takes a brief glance and turns away quickly. “Oh God, I forgot,” he says. “Long-lost college friend of my dad’s. He’s here visiting or something. God.”
Someone else steps through the darkness, bringing the shadow of the inside out with him: black oversize hoodie under a dark kind of camouflage jacket, black skinny jeans, black boots. A kid, hands stuffed in his pockets, body hunched like he’s braving an arctic blast instead of an end-of-summer heat wave in Los Angeles. He’s staring at the ground, apart from the two adults, and you can tell by the angle of his body that he isn’t listening to them at all.
“Who’s with him?” I ask Dhyllin.
Dhyllin keeps texting. “The son,” he says, aggravated. “I’m supposed to meet him, he’s in our grade, whatever.”
“He doesn’t look like his son,” I say. The father’s white, and the boy’s definitely darker, could be maybe Indian or Pakistani.
Dhyllin tilts his head a fraction toward the house. “He looks like a terrorist.” Another glance. “A tiny terrorist.”
“Racist,” Gregg says automatically, without taking his eyes off his game.
“Just joking,” Dhyllin says, all put out. “But look at him.”
The kid is pretty short for someone our age. That’s the first thing I notice. The second thing is that under his hood, the boy has this tumbling sea of dark hair, with one large bleached wave swooshing out from it. And the third thing is his eyes, which are wide and bright against the deep olive of his skin.
Eyes that are looking back at me. And aren’t looking away.
I’ve got this thing I do, where sometimes I just stare. I don’t mean to; I kind of get lost in my head and forget that my body is still in real life. My grandmother calls it catching flies, my father calls it spacing out, and my friends just say I’m going offline. But I can tell that this kid is not offline. He’s staring, not into space, but directly at me, like we’re in a conversation and he’s waiting to hear what I’m going to say next. Waiting, like a challenge.
And, of course, while I’m thinking all this, I’m still staring at him.
My face burns hot. I jerk away, trying to turn and dribble and shoot all at once, as if that was what I’ve been doing all along, and of course the ball misses the entire backboard by about a mile, sailing inches above Gregg’s head and landing in the bushes.
“Play much?” Dhyllin says, smirking into his phone.
I run over to get the ball, glancing back toward the house. The boy isn’t looking in my direction anymore, but Dhyllin’s father is. He extends an arm out, waves us in.
“I think your father wants us to come over?”
Dhyllin gives a tight shake of his head. “Fuck no. The last thing I wanna do is sit and listen to him tell stories about the old theater days.” His thumbs jab his phone screen like he’s about to launch a nuclear device.
His dad still has his arm up. I drop the ball. “Maybe we should just say hi.”
“Who what where?” says Gregg, finally looking up.
“C’mon, Dhyllin,” I say, but he’s already heading the opposite way.
“Go ahead, but I’m warning you, you’ll never escape,” he says over his shoulder, then walks off toward the pool, phone leading the way, leaving Gregg and me completely stranded.
The adults on the patio are staring at us, waiting, expecting conversation. Adult conversation. Gregg looks at me, and I look at Gregg. Dhyllin’s completely spooked us. We both break into a run, scooping up our backpacks and retreating to the side gate. It isn’t until we’re safely at Gregg’s house, half an hour later, that I wonder what we were so frightened of.
All Kinds of Other by James Sie Quill Tree Books Hardcover, 9780062962492, 416 pp. May 2021