Gidney, Craig Laurence. “Bereft”, Tiny Satchel Press, 2013.
At fourteen years old, Rafael Fannen wins a minority scholarship to an all male college preparatory Catholic school but what was supposed to be a great honor soon becomes his having to deal with racism from his fellow students. When he becomes the target of a mean and vicious bully, things go out of control. Rafael (Rafe) decides to fight back but it is not only his life that is affected by that decision but the lives of everyone around him.
We all know what a trying time adolescence can be but when the issue of race is added to the issues that already exist; being a junior high school student can become a terrible experience. When I was in junior high school, life was easy but times were different then. There was no integration and we did not have to deal with racism (at least not at school). During the time Rafe was a student we see boys behaving badly and not as one reviewer put it “being boys”. (I think we sometimes forget that the values we have come from the home). The schoolboys that we see here are hurtful and violent and they antagonize others almost as a test of strength. Coupled with this are the sexual tensions of adolescence and friendships that develop.
Rafe might be described as something of a dreamer and he uses his dreams as a way of dealing with the reality which he faces in attending a new school and the racism that goes with it. He has another problem and he is experiencing his sexual awakening that he might be gay (and with this we see his two battles). When he is at home, he is fine and able to face what is happening. His mother is teetering between her devotion to religion and losing it mentally. Rafe’s father from whom he is estranged is facing being homeless. So his problems seem minor to those of his parents.
Rafe is, on one hand, a nerdy fantasy-driven geek and on the other hand, he is a teenager dealing with his sexuality and racism as well his mother’s Christian beliefs and his father’s new way of life (or, better said, lack of a way of life). Meanwhile, the barbarians are at the gates and they are overt and covert at the same time. One of the things that Gidney shows us here is that our teen years stay with us forever as integral parts of the way we make decisions and see ourselves. Rafe eventually learns to accept himself and to deal with reality as well as the challenges that come with it.
We see Rafe is a boy (not yet a man) dealing with man-sized realities and as he tells his story we see him trying to be strong in a world that does not care about him. He carries a double minority status and that is difficult for an adult and certainly a real hardship for a teen, especially one who is just coming into himself. He is an idealist and most of us have shared his idealism sometimes in our lives. Like Rafe, we have wanted to repair the world and we have faced issues that are comparable (in our minds) to his.
There is no happy ending here and I doubt there ever will be if we do not live up to our responsibilities to make the world a better place for everyone. I suspect that there is a lot of the author’s own life here but even if there is not, I believe we can all agree that we do not yet live in a world that is free of racism and homophobia. It is surprising that we have to be reminded of that. If we do have to be reminded, I am glad that it is Craig Gidney’s powerful and beautiful prose.