The Minus-One Club, a short book review

This short book review of The Minus-One Club will announce that author Kekla Magoon—Coretta Scott King Book Award winner and Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature winner—has written one of the most passionate books I’ve read in years!

The Minus-One Club is the story of fifteen-year-old Kermit, who finds a mysterious invitation in his locker one day. The invitation contains an intriguing message that includes a time and place to meet and is signed “-1”—which means nothing to him. With no idea what to expect, Kermit shows up to find five schoolmates who have chosen to ignore their differences and have banded together for moral support. Their one common denominator? They have all suffered the tragic loss of someone they loved.

As it turns out (in another part of this amazing story about living through grief), one of the schoolmates is Matthew Rincorn. Matt is a secret heartthrob of Kermit’s, and the only out student at their school; but, Kermit’s family is devotedly, steadfastly Baptist, and he is still unsure that he has the courage—or will ever be ready—to allow his feelings to surface.

Magoon’s writing style is relatable, inviting, comforting, and endearing—if that makes any sense—as her words, sentences, and paragraphs skillfully transform into natural dialogues that explore familial expectations, religious expression and personal spirituality, the stages and experiences of grief, and sexual identity, as well as more common contemporary teenage issues, including bullying, depression, suicide, and friendship. Her setup for Kermit’s introduction to his initial meeting is a good example of her style:

“Hi,” I say.
     No one answers.
     All told, this is one of the more surreal things that’s happened to me this week. Which is saying something. . . .
     I’m scared to speak again, into the silence. It isn’t really silent, though, because outside the . . . door, I can hear lockers slamming and kids talking and sneakers squeaking and the after-school bell ringing for reasons I’ve never understood. Does it ring every forty-two minutes all night long?
     I reach into my pocket and pull out the index card I found in my locker this morning, with its cryptic message. I read it again, for the thousandth time, fold and unfold it. Try to remind myself that I was summoned here, and there must be a purpose. . . . So I keep my mouth shut and sit and wait and try not to think too hard about things . . .
     The door blasts open, bringing a fresh wave of outside noise. “I’m so sorry, guys. So sorry. I got held up after class. I mean, geez, once Mrs. Markey gets on a roll there’s just no stopping her.”
     My throat clogs instantly at the sound of his voice. Oh God. Oh God. It chokes me like a prayer, although I stopped believing in God six and a half days ago.
     Matthew Rincorn tosses his gorgeous, sculpted self into the empty seat next to me. “Why is nobody talking?”
     Still no one speaks. . . .
     “Geez, you guys,” Matt says. “Are you trying to freak him out?”
“It’s a ceremony, Matthew,” Janna says super seriously. “Get with the program.”
     “You sadistic freaks,” Matt says. . . .
     Matt touches my shoulder. Actually touches me. I get goosebumps all over. “Hi, Kermit,” he says. “Welcome to the Minus-One Club.”

As Kermit gets over the surprise of his secret crush “blasting” into that meeting as the fifth member of this group, the following exchange takes place:

I shuffle my cards into order by suit. “Uh, which is better, a straight or a flush? I always forget that part.”
     “Straight’s not better than anything,” Matt pipes up. “That’s how I remember it.” Everyone but me laughs.
     I want to laugh, too, but I can’t. “Okay.”
     “Got it now?” Matt Rincorn smiles at me. At me. In response, my mouth does something that I hope comes across more like a smile than drooling.
     Matt was hot even before he came out last year, but after that his hotness, like, quadrupled. Sexy and strong and brave. The only out gay guy in our entire high school. Quite a few schools in the area have actual GSAs and such, but not ours. We live in the vortex between three megachurches, and it shows. Matt coming out made him practically a legend.
     I’m not the only anything. Not the only Black guy—not even the only biracial—not the only blue belt, and nowhere near the only Christian. (If I can still call myself one since my heart lives in sin.) I’m probably not the only guy who secretly crushes on Matt Rincorn.

Magoon’s book is full of dialogue between the main several characters, as well as Kermit’s interior thoughts, most focused on struggles with his new life in grief—and with his related struggles over religion, his relationship with God and his church and the conflict between his upbringing and his emerging sexual feelings.

Editorially, I would have suggested punctuating the book differently in many, many instances (to ease readability) and I would have proposed some changes in pacing; but none of those issues should interfere with the targeted readers of young-adult or even middle-school age. As a warning, the story does deal with many contemporary topics (noted above)—and it does so in an honest and straightforward but natural way.

Get yourself a copy!

Buy a copy of The Minus-One Club by Kekla Magoon for yourself through the-gay-editor’s online bookstore. I also invite you to take a look at some of this masterful author’s other amazing titles:

  • On the serious, contemporary side (though the books are no longer new),  How It Went Down  is the unfortunate and seemingly timeless story of an African American teen who is senselessly shot by a white man—and where everyone has something to say, but no two accounts line up—leaving his friends, family, and community to struggle with the tragedy and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. How It Went Down was recognized as a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book (2015) and was named to the International Reading Association (IRA) Notable Books for a Global Society list (2015).
  • A companion book to How It Went Down is  Light It Up,  uses a series of vignettes from multiple viewpoints to relay information and feelings about another wrongful shooting that erupts in upheaval and unrest, and the arrival of white supremacist counter demonstrators.
  • The historical fiction novels Fire in the Streets (2013) and its earlier companion book, The Rock and the River (2010), explore the Black Panthers of Chicago, in the summer of 1968, and the public dilemma over using peaceful protest, civil disobedience, and more aggressive action to effect change—as seen and analyzed through the eyes of early- to mid-teens. The Rock and the River won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent (Author) in 2010.
  • Another historical fiction work, The Flag Never Touched the Ground, shares the story of formerly enslaved William Harvey Carney and the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment during its assault on the impregnable Fort Wagner in 1863 as the Civil War lingered on.
  • In addition, Magoon has authored the acclaimed  Chester Keene Cracks the Code  and  37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order),  as well as  The Season of Styx Malone  (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, 2019, and winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry, 2019), along with many biographies, several additional books on social justice topics, and more.

And, read on . . .

the-gay-editor has compiled a number of other titles for your reading pleasure, and all are LGBTQ+ focused. Visit our special bookstore page to find links to book selections for adults and younger readers that include these recently added titles:

the-freelance-editor has also built a bookstore for writers, aspiring editors, and readers of all interests. Visit that bookstore page for an index to categories and links to those selections.

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originally posted March 18, 2023
no text revisions to date

image information: Featured image used via Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan Publishing Group.

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