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Books Tue Oct 08 2013

Book Review: Chris L. Terry's Debut Novel Zero Fade

Thumbnail image for Zero Fade - Front Cover Draft.jpgChris Terry has been a writer and performer for most of his life. He's been a touring musician, he self-published the zine Gullible, he co-hosted the now-defunct literary reading series Neutron Bomb, and he received his master's degree from the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College.

His first novel, the young adult story Zero Fade was released this fall on Curbside Splendorand has been garnering some buzz. Terry has been pulling out all the stops to support it. He's already hit the road for a book tour (read his tour diary on Gapers Block) and taken the stage at readings across the city, such as Reading Under the Influence and Words + Music.

The book is a perfect read for the back-to-school season (whether you're in class or just have fond memories). The story captures a week in the life of 13-year-old high school student Kevin Phifer in Richmond, Virginia in the mid-nineties, and it tackles all of the hardships that teenagers face: dating, rebelling, developing an authentic personality.

Terry modernizes the teenage experience, contemporizing the narrative with underlying messages around homosexuality and bullying. The narrative is split in two; the main story following Kevin (told in first person), and a subplot following Kevin's gay uncle Paul (told in the 3rd person). Kevin is an astute teenager, and he understands the complexities of life outside his world of watching Simpsons re-runs and listening to Eddie Murphy's stand up (on cassette!). Terry balances this by giving Kevin an imaginative side, and we see much of the story through the alternate reality he fabricates.

Kevin's week is full of adventure. He gets bullied by Tyrell, a classmate who's been held back and is now bigger
than all the other kids in his class. His best friend David is socially awkward, but his voice of reason counteracts Kevin's daydreaming. Kevin has a crush on Aisha in his science class, who has her eye on Demetric, the school's self-proclaimed Don Juan. The usual grade school clashes occur for Kevin, from being bullied by Tyrell to being clowned on by Demetric. At home it gets worse. Kevin's mom is going out on a date. His older sister doesn't want to be bugged by her little brother. His uncle Paul is coming to terms with the difficulty of hiding his sexual identity from his family. And to make matters worse, Kevin's been grounded.

The book's title refers to a haircut, a turning point that builds Kevin's confidence and introduces more of his uncle Paul into the book. Paul takes him to a barbershop, a rite of passage for a young man, yet the barber is gay and is an interest of Paul's. Kevin begins to wonder if this interaction with the barber affects his masculinity-- one concern among many that consume his thoughts. He wants desperately to have a girlfriend. He wants to be strong to combat being chased through the hallways and around the neighborhood by bullies. And he wants to be cool, even at the expense of his family and friends.

Terry adeptly examines the topic of bullying without making it the centerpiece of the novel. He's created relatable situations in which his characters must learn to overcome their fears while juggling complex themes of homosexuality and identity. It's a story about finding oneself and being true to whatever that means in an age of transition and exploration. Terry maintains an authentic voice in the adolescent, middle-school world he's created. Full of adult concerns, it's a strong first novel that will resonate with any age; it's simply good fiction.

Catch Terry read from Zero Fade on Saturday October 19, 5:30pm at City Lit Books 2523 N. Kedzie Blvd.

Also, check out this book trailer for Zero Fade

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