Summary: Barbara Jean and Alex are the best of friends. To her, he is a hero and the perfect friend, and to him, she is a stunning example of being able to be yourself. But when the popular girls at school befriend Barbara Jean, they plant seeds of doubt in her about her friendship with Alex. When Barbara Jean steals Alex’s journal to find out the truth, not only is she shocked but it falls into the wrong hands and his carefully constructed persona is ruined. Anguished by her betrayal of her best friend, Barbara takes drastic action against herself as retribution.
Number of Pages: 181
Age Range: 15-17
Review: I love the complexity of In the Garage by Alma Fullerton. Alex is an amazing, decent person, but he can’t see it because of the constant pressure from his father to be perfect. Better grades, better basketball scores, and a future of a wife and children are all mapped out for him. But what no one knows is that while Alex appears to have it all, he’s hiding a secret about himself that will change his perfect status. He’s gay.
Not even Barbara Jean knows, and she’s his best friend. An outcast of sorts herself with a face marked by a port wine birth mark and a scar, she is the target of bullying at school. Her friendship with Alex begins when Alex stands up for her on the playground when they are kids, but it is cemented by their shared experiences with unsupportive parents and lost mothers.
I wanted a different ending for Alex. So much hate for such a wonderful person who was conditioned not to see how wonderful he really was. My heart broke for Barbara Jean too, because the allure of being acknowledged by the popular girls led her down a terrible path. I could understand how good it felt to be popular after being socially shunned because of her looks, but I ended up wishing Alex’s friendship could have been enough for her, at least until she was out of her horrible high school environment. Except I could see how approval from those girls might feel like approval from her mother who left her years before. The flashback scenes between Barbara Jean and her mother were heart-rending.
But my favourite, favourite part was the continual, unconditional love Alex receives from his four year-old brother, Jacob. I love the poems Alex writes about him, and how you can tell that his simple, child-like displays of affection get to Alex in a way nothing else does. Jacob lets Alex know he is loved by someone just as he is because Jacob doesn’t care about perfection and labels, but unfortunately it’s not enough to completely overcome the other voices in his life.
I wish I could have had more information about how Barbara Jean got her scar, and things like whether Alex and his step-mother got along since she also seemed like a very loving person. I also wish there had been a direct conversation between Alex and Barbara Jean about why exactly they were friends because I feel like that could have helped them both feel better about themselves. I especially liked that Alex was drawn to Barbara Jean because she was forced to be herself since her differentness was immediately visible. He held his differentness inside, afraid, for good reason, to reveal his true self. Alas, the ending is not a happy one.
A mix of free-verse poetry and prose, In the Garage is a faster but still thoughtful read about two teens trying to figure out who they are in the midst of high school. I’d recommend it for mid to older teens because of mature themes.
“There’ll always be shit that happens in your life that’ll make you wonder what the hell God was thinking when he made humans.” – Barbara Jean from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 8
“Hugs from A Kid
While I’m playing my guitar
everything bad in my world
and I feel like I do
when my four-year-old half-brother, Jacob,
comes to find me
just to hug me
for no reason. – Alex from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 32
“Listening to a good singer can make you float inside. Listening to a bad one can make you cover your ears and run out of the room screaming.” – Barbara Jean from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 44
“Finally being accepted by your peers can drive you crazy.” – Barbara Jean from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 103
“He leans forward and looks at me – not the way other people look at me. He actually looks at me – not all my fat, not at my scar, not at the blotch under the scar. He looks at me, and he smiles. ‘Yes, I do see you, BJ. I see you.
And then it happens.
I cry.” – Conversation between Dr. West and Barbara Jean from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 143
“Then I remember what
she did to me,
and the anger builds up
inside me like brick walls.
Every day, those walls get
stronger, and soon I feel like
I’m in a vault
Inside that vault
I feel safe.
Inside that vault,
nothing can hurt me.
Inside that vault,
I don’t feel anything.
Inside that vault,
I can’t even feel Jacob’s hugs for nothing.
I don’t like that.” – Alex from In the Garage from Alma Fullerton, pages 158-159
When the guys leave,
I sit alone in the garage,
Jacob comes in and pats my head,
like I’m a dog.
He wipes my cheek
with his little hand,
and says, ‘Don’t cry. It’s okay.
I’m here now.’
Then he hugs me,
and whispers, ‘I love you, Alex.’
And I wonder how someone
can make me feel
so much better.” – Alex from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 165
“‘But I don’t want to be gay,’ I say.
‘No one wants to be gay.
It’s just the way some of us were made.
We have to learn
to deal with it the best we can.'” – Conversation between Alex and David from In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, page 175