If you're anything like me, chances are you spend a fair amount of time managing your TBR (to-be-read) pile. You buy a new book everyone's talking about. Your hold finally comes in at the library. You see a cover you just can't resist. And so you finding yourself editing your TBR pile whenever it's time to add something else to the top. My TBR is a mixed bag of graphic novels, picture books, a few middle grade, and at least one book on behavioral economics at any given point in time. Those who know me well know that I'm a terribly slow reader. A friend and reading specialist colleague once told me that I read slow because I "read every word" and that this is by no means a bad thing, it just means that I'm getting different things out of stories that friends who might read faster. So I compensate by listening audiobooks. Tons and tons. And it works for me.
But every once in a while there's a book that I just can't stop thinking about, even if I haven't made much of a dent in the story. Currently (and, in truth, for months now) that book has been ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD by Eric Bell. The cover is absolutely captivating to me. Props to Julia Kuo for that. You may know Julia's work from THE SOUND OF SILENCE, her picture with Katrina Goldsaito. (One of my absolute favorite picture books. Katrina, Julia, and I recorded a podcast interview HERE.)
I remember when I first read the jacket flap and knew this was a book I needed to read:
From debut author Eric Bell comes a smart, hilarious, and poignant coming-of-age—and coming-out—story about one unforgettable character, Alan Cole, and how he navigates family and middle school through unexpected friendships and staying true to himself.
Alan Cole is not a coward . . . right?
He can’t stand up to his cruel brother, Nathan. He can’t escape the wrath of his demanding father, who thinks he’s about as exceptional as a goldfish. Scariest of all, he can’t let the cute boy across the cafeteria know he has a crush on him.
But when Nathan discovers Alan’s secret, his older brother announces a high-stakes round of Cole vs. Cole. Each brother must complete seven nearly impossible tasks; whoever finishes the most wins the game. If Alan doesn’t want to be outed to all of Evergreen Middle School, he’s got to become the most well known kid in school, get his first kiss, and stand up to Dad—and all with the help of only two friends even less cool than he is.
Giving up is for cowards, and Alan’s determined to prove—to Nathan, to the world, to himself—that this goldfish can learn to swim. May the best Cole win.
I'm working my way through the story, enjoying every word, but in the meantime I thought it would
be cool to hear from Eric. Please enjoy this guest post from author Eric Bell and be sure to check out his middle grade debut, ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD.
When I hit middle school in the mid-1990s and the vicious and unforgiving monster called puberty assaulted every inch of my body, I slowly became aware of how I was attracted to other boys – not girls. This was before gay culture went “mainstream.” “LGBT” was a bunch of alphabet soup to me. My sole exposure to other homosexuals was as the cruel butt of my classmates’ jokes. I knew nothing about gay people except two things: that I could very well be one, and that I would do anything not to be. Why would I want to be something that everyone hated?
We’ve come a long way since then, but we still have quite a long way to go. Kids today still struggle with coming out. But if I had grown up today instead of twenty years ago, would I have been more accepting of myself at a young age? I didn’t come out until college, but if I had seen positive depictions of gay people in the media and in society, would it have shown me that there was nothing wrong with being gay, that it was okay to be different, even hated by some, if you still believed in yourself?
Last year my debut middle grade novel ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. It’s the story of twelve-year- old Alan Cole, who badly crushes on a straight boy in his class. His older brother discovers this horrible secret and blackmails Alan into playing a game of impossible tasks. If Alan loses, his brother swears he will out Alan to the whole
school. Alan must learn to stand up for himself, beat his brother at his own game, and accept who he is, no matter what happens.
Alan is the kind of kid I would have loved to have read about growing up. He’s not your typical hero: he’s shy and unconfident, and though he frequently thinks up sarcastic retorts for the frustrations that surround him, he never utters them out loud. He prefers the company of his sketchbook to real-life banter. But he’s a hero. He’s my hero. And I would love if it he could be a hero to readers of all shapes and sizes.
At the heart of ALAN COLE is the idea that you should accept yourself. This philosophy is best espoused by Alan’s friend Zack, who says, “I’d rather have a hard time being myself than an easy time being somebody else.” It’s a fairly simple concept, but it’s given extra weight because Alan is gay, and, like many LGBT kids, he has a hard time accepting that about himself. It’s my hope that kids could read ALAN COLE and find a reflection of themselves on the page, someone who doesn’t have all the answers, someone who’s afraid, someone who’s hated by some, but someone who still learns to believe in himself. And while I think the book has much to offer to any kid, I know twelve-year- old me, who looked in the mirror and prayed he could overcome his homosexual affliction, would have been particularly helped by it.
That’s my gift to my inner child: the mind-blowing idea that he isn’t fundamentally unlovable, that he’ll find his way if he keeps at it. I want to share that gift with other kids too.
Alan Cole is not a coward – and neither are you.
Eric Bell lives and writes in Pennsylvania. He graduated from the Robert E. Cook Honors College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a degree in psychology and a minor in English. Once the other kids at recess began pretending to go on the adventures he came up with, he never stopped telling stories. You can find him online at www.iamericbell.com.
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