Even with broken parts, you can build a functional machine. Take a bent manifold, a rusty chain and suddenly you have a robot that walks only into walls, a radio playing only silence, furniture that won’t talk. Likewise, some writer’s can weld together adolescence’s great banalities, its cliches and tritenesses, into really satisfying fiction. Bradford Tice’s “How to Become An American Boy,” an awkwardly told coming-out tale of one queer youth in flyover U.S.A., is a perfect example.
From the title on, the story begs for derision. It is broken into eight segments, four goals (with titles like “Goal Three: Find a male role model” and “Goal Four: Be Stoic in the Face of Disaster”), each followed by a “Self-Actualization Scene.” To enhance the general PSA atmosphere, each of the Goal segments takes place primarily in a psychiatrist’s chair. There’s a shadowy expectation of hate crimes or sexual violence. Moreover, it’s written in the second person future. That “You” is the main character, and that this is the story of what “You” will do, could almost justify total dismissal of the work, but, happily, that reaction is precisely the gasoline on which this machine runs.