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Book News

Tobias lifts the veil

'The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up'
by Andrew Tobias

Random House, $23.95

Review by Ron McGuire

Web posted on: Wednesday, November 25, 1998 4:44:53 PM EST

(CNN) -- Several years ago while rummaging through the dusty back rooms of an indoor flea market I came upon a bookcase filled with yellowed paperbacks. There in the middle of the third shelf sat an unread copy of "The Best Little Boy in the World."

The author's name, John Reid, initially caught my attention, since I knew of another author by a similar name. Though I realized the names were spelled differently, I picked up the book and read few pages.

Based on that brief introduction, I paid the nominal price of ten cents and took the book home. That night I read the entire book. It was captivating, enlightening, and unlike any book on the subject I had ever read before.

It was a personal account of one man's coming to terms with his homosexuality. I was stunned that it did not end with a suicide, a murder or some other grizzly and depressing conclusion. This was a departure from the norm. Other books on the subject, such as "The City and the Pillar" or "Cruising" invariably acquiesced to the demands of the market place and presented their protagonists as disturbed, psychotic and murderous outcasts, incapable of functioning in any but the most bizarre of ways.

This book was different; no one died, no one went insane, and the protagonist navigated the minefield of personal acceptance and societal rejection with hope and humor. And yet, despite its inspiring message, one could not overlook the fact that the author felt compelled by the time in which he was writing to publish his work under the protection of a pseudonym.

Over the years, I found myself buying new copies of the book (it has never gone out of print) to give to friends who found themselves in the midst of similar struggles, facing their own challenges. Along the way I had heard rumors of the author's true identity, but these went unconfirmed for years.

Now, 25 years after the publication of "The Best Little Boy in the World," the veil has been lifted and the author has laid claim to his work. Andrew Tobias, author of such captivating works as "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need," has written a sequel.

With the publication of "The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up," Tobias has acknowledged what so many have already come to know. No more pseudonym, and no more hiding.

And yet, as with so many sequels, this follow-up falls short of the standard set by its predecessor. It is a fine book in its own right, but it lacks the innocence and zeal of the original. Of course, so do most of its readers. We've grown up, and times have changed. This new volume reflects the changes experienced by both the author and his audience. And in that sense, it is an excellent update.

Though I enjoyed this book, it lacked the impact of the first. I could identify with the "The Best Little Boy in the World," and I felt on some level that I shared his struggle. Which meant that I could share his hope.

But this new book describes a way of life far removed from my own. For the first twenty chapters or so, it is more informative than insightful. While the author's experiences rubbing elbows with the rich and famous are interesting, and do make for good reading, I was hoping for something more.

When he ultimately turns his attention to the moral and social struggles of our time, I felt as though I was finally getting more of what I had seen in the first book. A man not unlike myself, facing the same issues every day of his life and struggling to make sense of it all. Of course, if this were the sum total of the book, it wouldn't be working its way to the top of numerous best-seller lists (a feat never even considered possible for the first book).

Maybe I'm just jaded. Maybe I shouldn't expect so much from a sequel. So here is the bottom line: if you've read the first book, this one is practically required reading (you must know how his life has turned out since college). And if you haven't read "The Best Little Boy in the World," you may not care that he grew up and made it out of the mountains.

Ron McGuire is an online coordinator with CNN Interactive. He has worked as an entertainment writer and in radio.

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