What’s it like when people at school start saying things about your brother? What do they mean when they say he’s a bit ‘funny’?

My ‘Funny’ Brother is that rare thing in South African literature: a teen novel for all ages. It’s rare in another respect: it’s a novel for all teens in which a couple of the characters happen to be gay.

Author and publisher Robin Malan says that the book is not only intended for gay teens but for a wider audience.

“Gay teens will find in it lots of moments of recognition, as well as affirmation. They’ll ‘understand’ a lot of what happens in the book. But my hope is that all teen readers will enjoy the story and perhaps discover a few things they didn’t know about gay people and about themselves,” he explains.

The story is narrated by ‘Missy’, whose brother Donovan is gay. This biological fact does not seem to worry anyone in the family except, early on, the eldest sibling, Reggie, who is into rugby, and plans on going to Police College.

Even he becomes reconciled to his brother’s gayness – well, more or less – when he comes to understand that gay boys flirt around school just the way straight boys do. Surprise!

You’ll encounter Missy at school with the ‘ugly freckle-face’ who tells her things about her brother; follow Donnie and his attempts to end up being, as he puts it: “the best debater, the best actor, the best set designer, and – if only Reggie will let me – the best male cheerleader the school has ever seen. And I’ll have a poem published in English Alive, you’ll see!”

Enjoy the game of Guy-Spy (‘… with my little eye’) that Donnie and Missy play in the malls and while watching the World Cup soccer. Listen to the sound advice Donovan gives his mother to pass on to a young gay work colleague who is having trouble countering the Bible brandishing of his religious family.

See what happens when Donnie brings his first boyfriend home to ‘meet the folks!’ And what happens to them on the train to town. All of that forms part of the first half of My ‘Funny’ Brother.

In the second part of the book, however, something happens that isn’t funny at all…

When asked what kind of impact he’d like the book to have on its readers, Malan replies: “Basically, what one’s doing is telling a story, and it’s up to the story to do its job of affecting the readers. I would hope that, by reading this story, a bit more understanding of one another would emerge. It’s not going to change the world; but it might just shift the thinking of a few people.”

Malan bristles at any suggestion that he had to make compromises or have any other considerations by including gay characters in a teen novel.

“You write the character the way you write the character. I see absolutely no reason why I should compromise in any way,” he says. “I don’t have to ‘make allowances’ for the characters who are gay, or for the fact that most readers are likely to be straight. I approached writing my gay lead character exactly the same way I would do a straight character.”

Malan has spent most of his working life in education and theatre. He has written a number of novels for young people, including Rebel Angel, based on the life of John Keats; The Story of Lucky Simelane, based on the story of Happy Sindane; and runner-up of the Young Africa Award in 1998 The Sound of New Wings, a gay love story set in a school in Swaziland.

He says that he believes that anyone of any age will enjoy My ‘Funny’ Brother, just like his previous books. “One of the things that has been interesting for me is that those novels seem to be appreciated as much by adult readers as by teen readers, so perhaps we don’t really need to categorise in the way we do for the sake of convenience.”

The publisher Junkets has introduced a couple of innovations with this book. First, a little warning in the text alerts readers to the fact that the book ‘contains a biology lesson’. How intriguing is that?

Then, there is a further unusual aspect in the pricing of the book. The normal retail price is a good-buy R100. But there is also a special price of R80 for anyone between the ages of 11 and 17 who orders the book direct from Junkets Publisher and has parental permission to do so.

Whatever your age, all you have to do is send an email to asking for an order form, or SMS 076 169 2789, punch in ‘MFB’ and text your email address. You’ll then receive an order form in your inbox. Couldn’t be easier.

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