I could say many things about Christopher Koehler’s novel, POZ. There is much more than meets the eye with this coming of age story about a boy and his love for rowing and his grappling with his emerging sexuality. Amidst the teenage angst and the travails of growing up, there are very stark lessons that POZ dares to take on and refuses to make pretty or easy by any stretch of the imagination. This novel is a tutorial of a sort, wrapped up in a rough and tumble story that casts a naked eye on how very easy it is to make mistakes when we are young and naïve and feeling ignored by those we trust to love us unconditionally. So let us begin at the beginning and see what exactly POZ stands for and how it continues to affect way too many young men in this country every year.
Jeremy (Remy) Babcock was a sixteen-year old virgin who knew he liked boys and hid all that desire from his family, including his fraternal twin and closest friend, Geoff. Out but not out, Jeremy shared his sexuality just the tiniest bit with the guys on his rowing team, but did not flaunt it and even there it was kept close to the cuff, not to be shared beyond the tight-knit crew. When he discovers that his friend Mikey is also gay, Remy begins to sense mixed signals coming from the boy. But by a series of miscommunications, any thoughts of a relationship with Mikey are shoved aside and suddenly a chance encounter with an intern opens up a whole new world for Remy where life is exciting and clandestine and full on with random hook ups that include unsafe sex. You see, despite Remy’s dad having the “talk” with both Geoff and Remy, diseases such as HIV are never discussed. Instead, Remy hides who he is from parents who are wrapped up in their own worlds and from a father who sees his son as second rate next to his brother, Geoff.
Alone and so terribly naïve, Remy makes a series of poor choices that stem from an ignorance that so easily could have been avoided if only everyone living in the Babcock residence actually listened to each other and actively were involved in each other’s lives. Unfortunately that was not to be and so before long, Jeremy would be grappling with a virus that would change his life forever, compromising his immune system and nearly taking from him everything he loved, including rowing.
POZ is a story that should be on every teen’s bookshelf, gay or straight. While on the surface this may seem to be a novel solely about the deadly virus that continues to stalk the gay community, the reality is that unprotected sex can kill anyone given the right circumstances. With the lines of sexuality blurring among teens today, the slow but steady acceptance of both gay and bisexual genders opens a whole new world of possibility and with it a resurgence of a deadly virus. What author Christopher Koehler does so well in this novel is remind us that we must continue to be vigilant—that teens are still likely to be misinformed about how AIDS is contracted and spread. Carefully wrapping AIDS awareness education into a compelling and well-written story, the author shakes the complacency that we as a people have fallen so easily into over the last few years.
But here is the magic of POZ. It is never heavy handed, rather, it is focused on the coming of age and sexual birth of a teen that could be anybody—your son, my neighbor, your kid’s best friend. Remy is an every man type of character, just a normal guy who makes bad decisions due to an absence of education and his lack of knowledge falls squarely on the shoulders of parents and educators who fail to see the teens they are meant to care for and watch over—who fail to see Remy. This novel allows for hope when it seems the odds are stacked against us.
Perhaps the only hitch I had while reading this story came from the overwhelming amount of rowing language and information. Particularly heavy in the beginning of the novel, it took me some time to understand all the technical jargon that was presented in the opening chapters. While I understood that this was integral to the story due to Jeremy’s near obsession with the sport, I felt that it slowed the pacing of the novel overall and, at times, detracted from the central messages this story was trying to impart. However aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. POZ is such an important addition to the YA bookshelf and I encourage you to grab a copy for your very own.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.