The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Bette Greene: D

From the back cover:
Hate. It’s the farthest feeling from sixteen-year-old Carla Wayland’s mind. She can’t believe people would persecute others just because they are different. But she isn’t about to worry about the injustice surrounding her because she’s in love with handsome and popular Andy Harris. Although raised to act on her ethical beliefs, Carla finds that her enchantment with Andy makes her a silent partner in his hate campaign and harrassment of gay couple Stephan Jones and Frank Montgomery.

At first Carla manages to overlook and explain away Andy’s atrocious behavior toward the men. but Stephan drowns as a direct result of what Andy and his friends do, and Carla can no longer deny the truth. Carla must decide before the trial which side she’s on and what she stands for. Will justice prevail?

Okay, I give this book some credit for condemning persecution of gays. The story is memorable, and I do like Frank. But wow, the writing is bad! The general tone is childish, there are many instances of dialogue not sounding natural, and the use of exclamation points is excessive. In one 11-page chapter, I count 36 of them. Later, on a single page containing a hateful letter Andy has written, there are 27.

There are plenty of examples to choose from, but here’s an excerpt that’s fairly illustrative of several flaws simultaneously. To set the scene: Andy has just finished ranting about how gays should be given a mandatory death sentence. Note how this does not deter the protagonist from fawning over him.

“Know what [Dad] tells me? He says, ‘Peabrain’ — I love that little joke of his, calling me ‘Peabrain.’ He says, ‘Peabrain, marry yourself a good woman and forget all this religious stuff, ’cause she’ll do praying enough for you both!'”

“He calls you ‘Peabrain’?” Carla protested. “That’s so cruel, and not one bit fair because anyone can tell that you’re… I mean… you’re really intelligent. I hope you don’t let him get away with that!”

I’m not exactly sure if it eventually got better when the subject matter got more serious or whether I just became accustomed to it. Either way, the problems became less glaring toward the end, but never wholly went away.

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