Review: Out of the Pocket

Sports are not my thing. What is my thing? Everything but sports. I did watch the World Cup, because my friend had a party and provided free donuts. I watched one Superbowl for the actual game and not the commercials, and it wasn’t too bad, but I still never did that again.

When I say I was able to read all of Out of the Pocket, that’s not an insult or me having nothing else to say. Good job, Bill Konigsberg, I finished a sports book! The book is very sports and I am very not sports. If you’re into gay, coming of age sports stories, this is probably the best one you’ll find. The writing is super good and it’s easy to read even if you don’t know anything about football.

Summary and definition, all in one:  The pocket is a safe place for quarterbacks while they find someone to throw the ball to. Being out of the pocket means the QB isn’t in the safe zone and a bunch of scary dudes are running toward him and trying to tackle him into the ground.

Before coming out of the closet, Bobby Framingham has to go out of the pocket as he’s out of his comfort zone when things start changing during his senior year of high school. He tells some people he’s gay, other people find out, and things keep happening a little quicker than he’s ready for. He doesn’t want anything to change but that never works out in fiction.

Being out of the pocket isn’t his strong suit on the field but now it’s happening during life too. Get it? There’s a double meaning!

Sports! Ahem. Sports: There’s a lot of action with the football games and while some of it went over my head, it’s pretty fast paced and not terribly difficult to follow. There’s also a good amount of moments with the team that are fun and lively. My notes were, “Very sports. Very bros.”

If you like football or other sports and are interested in things people who know things about football and other sports have to say, there’s a forward and afterward by people who are much more well informed than me.

The end of the world as we know it: When you have a secret, sometimes you can ignore it and pretend like it doesn’t exist. Until you can’t anymore and suddenly everything is about the secret. Because all the parts of life you like will be ruined if people find out and all the parts you don’t like will be even worse.

Bobby wants to win games with his team and play football in college, and he’s not sure that’s possible if people find out he’s gay. There’s a lot of that, I like my life the way it is, I don’t want it to change stuff. Even though it has already changed. College is approaching, he’s growing apart from some friends, and his dad doesn’t seem to be himself.

Naturally, YA is really good at teen angst, and this book fits in. I love the impending sense of doom and the end of the world because that’s really how problems seem sometimes, especially with something as big as coming to terms with sexuality. There’s a lot of worrying about how things will go wrong, how the main character won’t get the future they wanted.

I also like how the novel highlights that coming out isn’t typically a one and done thing. Bobby comes out multiple times to different people with varying reactions. But as each coming out happens, it’s okay, even when it goes bad. The world doesn’t actually end. Sorry, spoilers.

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Writing Style: Great writing that is so effortless it makes me want to cry out of appreciation and jealous, impotent rage. The more you read, the more satisfying it gets. It’s all fairly straight forward at first glance, which works well for a sports book. No flowery prose, just the action. However, there are plenty of parallels and metaphors and all that good literature stuff.

My favorite part: Bobby tries to discuss coming out with a guidance counselor who is very focused on getting the right answer to his crossword puzzle. It’s a cute scene. What I loved about it is that Bobby can’t fathom going to college or beyond as an openly gay athlete, it just doesn’t happen very often. The counselor tells him that someone has to change the world and he could be the one to do it.

If you’re wondering why I love that part, here are my thoughts: UGH. IT’S JUST SO GOOD. WOW. GAH. I LOVE IT. SO GOOD!

Plot Twist: Just kidding, it’s right there in the offical summary that Bobby gets outed. Coming out to the larger world wasn’t his choice and there was some angst and distress, naturally, but I enjoyed that he eventually went with it all instead of dwelling on what he couldn’t change.

Moving on and focusing on the positives and whatnot is such a weird, foreign concept for me, the perpetual worrier who is incapable of letting things go. I liked how Bobby decided to take control of what was happening even though it didn’t happen how he planned.

The Supporting Cast: Actually, there’s a lot of supporting characters. The novel is a glimpse into Bobby’s world, so several faces come and go. For me, Austin and Carrie were the other characters that stood out.

Carrie is the BFF and quasi love interest, she’s very manic pixie dream girl. She’s a little much for me sometimes, but she also had some good lines. Her character is very strong. She takes over a lot of the scenes she’s in, not in a bad way, she’s just larger than life. Everyone thinks Bobby and Carrie are dating, and even Carrie thinks they should be at the beginning. I’m not totally sure there needed to be a one-sided attraction. She gets over it pretty quick and everyone assuming they’re dating would work just as well on its own.

Austin is one of Bobby’s best friends. Austin is a ladies’ man and a football bro. He’s a bit of a dick as he tells some friends Bobby is gay, but it seemed like he just didn’t know how to react. He tries to support Bobby and ultimately it was one of those things where he wasn’t as big a jerk as he could have been.

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TL;DR? This is as brief as I was able to make it: Bobby makes a couple comments to himself about how Austin selectively acts Mexican when it works for him. Austin is mixed, white and Mexican (me too, samesies), and many people probably didn’t give the parts about his ethnicity a second thought because they’re very small. Just let it go, I told my brain. My brain did not let it go.

With being biracial or bisexual, it’s sometimes hard for people to get things that aren’t always visible. For example, if you’re a guy dating a guy, you’re gay. If you’re a guy dating a girl, you’re straight. In my experience, some things aren’t one or the other. Some things are always both.

Some parts of YA are intense, so let’s be clear this isn’t a call out or anything. Fiction is rad because it can be anything. And all the things Bobby thinks about Austin’s race are a very accurate outsider POV as I’ve heard them said to me a million times. I just wanted a little more. Why did Bobby think these comments about his friend’s race and not say them out loud? Had he said them out loud before and they weren’t appreciated?

I don’t need an after school special where a Very Important Lesson about racial sensitivity is learned. Things could have gotten worse, and Bobby could have doubled down on his comments to Austin. Either way, I just wanted more, for the throwaway comments to be given a little substance.

The Romance: There is some, hooray, but it isn’t the main focus. The love interest this time is named Bryan and he’s great. He’s in college and he’s sweet, confident and supportive, a very good first boyfriend. There’s a lot of uncertainty and figuring stuff out in the plot, so it’s nice to have this relatively uncomplicated romance.

There’s a moment where Bobby is freaking out and Bryan is just steady. Bobby thinks the world is ending and Bryan’s just like, nah. And of course, they’re by the water for maximum mood. That’s another of my favorite moments.