[Beware, ironically with the title, this review is a little long. I wanted to get out everything I felt about the book]
"Disastrous Dates & Dream Boys" is the second book from Mark Roeder that I've read, and while reading, I noticed a lot of similarities to his other story, "The Nudo Twins." Unfortunately, one characteristic rings true for both stories and proved more than a little distracting while reading the novel. The characters' preoccupation for sex and wanting a boyfriend make perfect sense, especially when you consider the time in which these boys are living in, and how coming out can be dangerous. However, when characters constantly go back and forth about how they badly they want sex, and what nice bodies their classmates have, to how they really want more than just sex and want a boyfriend to be with, it becomes a little tiring. The exact same thoughts are echoed in various chapters, which leaves the characters a little lacking in depth.
Roeder also has the habit of having characters re-tell their personal history various times. I've found this particularly true in Brendan and Shawn's stories. I'm not quite sure what the desired effect is of having these boys constantly relate to the narrator about their traumatic lives that unfolded before the start of this novel (and I believe are included in other books in Roeder's "The Gay Youth Chronicles"), but it sort of creates a barrier between me and these characters. In addition, the dialogue feels stilted at times. I get the ideas Roeder is going for and they make sense internally, but to have someone say "yum" when describing a hot guy feels like a bit much. It sounds like ideas are being spoken, rather than characters sometimes. For example, many characters speak of the value of not stereotyping gay guys as being effeminate and good in certain things (like picking out clothes), but there does seem to be the stereotyping of guys as lustful and sex-driven...
Dane: The gay boy who falls in love with his best friend, he must navigate the consequences of acting on his feelings or keeping them in. This was probably my favorite story in terms of plot, and Dane felt the most fleshed out as a character.
Shawn: The gay boy who pretends to be straight in order to protect himself at school and from his dangerous father, he must deal with putting on a mask while trying to find happiness. I liked how his brother, Tim, also played into the storyline, though his part does seem to play out a little weird in terms of pacing (which appears to be a running problem in Roeder's stories, characters falling for each other so quickly).
Brendan: The boy with a boyfriend who is trying to put his past family issues behind him. This was my least favorite section just because of how much history is repeated through dialogue. It felt like ideas were being expressed, and this is where the book was at its most preachy (and not that I disagree with a lot of what Roeder is trying to say. It's just the delivery doesn't quite come off right.).
Despite my review of this book falling more on the negatives than the positives, I admire Mark Roeder for what I believe he is trying to do. I believe he is trying to show the emotional struggles of what it's like to be a gay teenager in a time/place when people aren't very accepting. One thing I can say is that the characters in Roeder's stories go through a lot of struggles common for gay teenagers: falling for straight guys, getting kicked out by disapproving parents, being forced into "straight camps," etc. By showing their struggles, I think Roeder is trying to provide a sense of hope for his readers, and show that gay guys really aren't alone in the world. He's highlighting the importance of community. I have to admit I somewhat agree with another reviewer of his work that the messages get a little preachy at time, but the fact that he's showing such dedication to giving gay teens hope and showing the various difficulties of getting through high schools years and feeling isolated, makes me admire him and want him to succeed.