Yates, Bart. “Leave Myself Behind”. Kensington Books, 2004.
Coming of Age
Having just finished “The Brothers Bishop” and having been blown away by it, I decided to return to Bart Yates first novel “Leave Myself Behind” for a second look. I remembered how powerful it was and how glorious it was as a coming of age novel. It is extremely hard to capture the emotions of a teenager’s discovering himself and his sexuality but Yates did it with great style. As it straddles the fence between adolescence and adulthood, as a gay boy matures into a gay man—one who has faced evil, it shows how he succeeds. The emotions portrayed in the novel hit the core of my being and made me realize, yet again, the universality of coming of age and how it affects us all.
To me, the beauty of “Leave Myself Behind” was the way that Bart Yates made me think beyond what he gave me to read. I entered my own mindset and dealt with issues I thought I ad already faced—self-acceptance and self-evaluation. I realized that I had a reason for existing in this world. I began to use Yates’ understanding of the nature of man to qualify my own reason for being and even if the two do not exactly mesh, the similarities are obvious—as they are to all of us when we introspect.
Noah York is the only son of Virginia, a poet of talent, who was of late widowed. Noah and his mother live in a city named Oakland and Noah keeps busy by helping his mother restore their house. Noah is at issue with his own sexuality as well as being a sarcastic kid. He falls in love with a classmate, J.D., a straight jock who has a girlfriend. J.D. turns out not to be so straight and Noah and he have oral sex while Noah wrestles with his own sexuality. The character of Noah is sublimely presented and Noah is the chief strength of the book. The book is told from Noah’s point of view and as long as the novel stays with Noah all is wonderful. I found some of the subplots to be unnecessary. I found myself so wrapped up in Noah that he was my focus.
By the subplots I allude to the secrets held by Noah’s mother and the dysfunctional family of which J.D. is a member. When Noah’s mother finds Mason jars behind the walls of the house and inside of the ceilings, she becomes obsessed with the history of the house and with her own history. We also find out that J.D.’s mother has her secrets which somehow reflect the secrets that Noah’s mother finds and while this is all interesting, I was more concerned with what was going on with the boys.
What the book does is restore whatever faith one has in youth and in the ability to begin anew. I found myself reflecting on those days when I was confused by sexuality and my own feelings. It seems that kids have an easier time these days finding themselves because they have what I didn’t—positive role models. When we were young and “queer” we only had someone’s eccentric uncle to identify with or the outcast from society who lived alone in the big house with all of the antiques.
“The Brothers Bishop” made me a Bart Yates fan. “Leave Myself Behind” confirmed it. Not only is his prose smooth and literate but his knack for weaving a tale is a rarity.