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Reader reviews

Smalley's writing is rich, nimble and warm…even the most casual reader will find something to love.

Reviewed by Matt Bright

In its specifics, That Boy Of Yours Wants Looking At is about author Simon Smalley's youth in 60s and 70s Nottingham, unavoidably 'different' to his peers - surviving the early loss of his mother and the tribulations a school system rife with homophobia and simmering violence - and it certainly is specific, packed full of rich detail that will strike sparks of recognition with any who remember the same locality and era. But in its widest, most universal sense, this is a memoir about growing up as an outsider, learning to not only survive but eventually find the strength to flourish, and this is the book's undeniable power.


That Boy Of Yours Wants Looking At places its main focus on Simon's relationship with his father: ex-RAF, recently widowed, and parenting a gaggle of constantly-jibing siblings. If your first thought on hearing that description was the same as mine, don't fear - this is not another dour entry in the misery-lit memoir genre. Simon's father is unfailingly supportive, accepting his son for all his many quirks—be that marching on glittery platform heels through the estate or his burgeoning sense of queer sexuality as the years move by—and it is impossible not to be utterly, wholeheartedly endeared to Simon's father, who wants nothing more than for his son to find happiness in whatever he can.

This is not to say the book is in any way rose-tinted or trite -far from it; there are a myriad of tensions and challenges that Simon faces, most notably the constant threat of violence from his school peers ready to explode at any moment, but throughout his father's love and acceptance remains an unwavering constant. If there is any criticism to be made it's that the prominence of Simon's father doesn't leave much oxygen for the other figures in his life--I was left curious wanting to know more about both his rotating circle of siblings and the female school friends who are often his fiercest champions. But when the worst thing to complain about is wanting to know more, the author has done their job. 


Anyone who loved Simon Doonan's Beautiful People will find a lot to love in That Boy Of Yours Wants Looking At, but Smalley's writing is rich, nimble and warm in a way that also reminded me of the novels of Tony Warren with their raft of queer characters coming of age amongst the working-class cities of the 50s and 60s. I'm not sure if hoping for a 'sequel' to a memoir is quite the thing to do, but I'd happily listen to Smalley spin stories of his life for as long as he wanted to tell them. I found myself almost painfully connecting with with personal specificity to so many details of Simon's life — being unspokenly marked as different before the idea of gay or queer ever enters your own lexicon; the tensions of the schoolyard and the small refuges; the escape and reinvention of exploring music; binding the body underneath clothes in a war against its distorted image — even as I found myself yearning for a father figure as comforting and reassuring as Simon's.

Queer readers will absolutely feel that kinship with Simon, but even the most casual reader will find something to love in The Boy of Yours Wants Looking At — and if there's one thing we'll all be able to agree on it is that the world would be a better place if every father was like Simon's.

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