This very moving memoir tells the story of a dramatic adolescence: Sixteen-year-old Keith Fleming's life is literally saved when his young uncle Ed, the writer Edmund White, impulsively agrees to "adopt" him.
Installed in the maid's room of his uncle's busy apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side where the phone never stops ringing, Keith soon finds himself transformed as Uncle Ed whirls into action--arranging treatment for Keith's disfiguring acne; enrolling him in prep school despite huge gaps in Keith's academic record caused by time spent in mental hospitals and a hippie "free school"; and instructing his nephew in a worldly view of life and love (an early assignment: reading Lolita and Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son).
Five months later Uncle Ed, who is both strapped for cash as well as completely caught up in the beehive of social and sexual activity of 1970s gay Manhattan, must decide if he can afford to "adopt" another child-Keith's fourteen-year-old Mexican girlfriend, the beautiful Laura, who has just run away from her convent school.
Though Keith's new life in New York forms the heart of the story, this powerful, entertaining memoir begins by tracing how young Keith evolves from being a member of a seemingly ordinary suburban family into a teen so miserably defiant that he is put in the hands of a tyrannical psychiatrist. Here, on a locked adolescent psychiatric ward, Keith meets the bewitching Laura. The two teens begin a passionate love affair--only to be separated and placed in different hospitals.
By turns lyrical, funny, and poignant, and always informed by touching candor, The Boy with the Thorn in His Side is full of fascinating characters and unexpected twists-at once an odyssey into the extremes of the American 1970s, a universal tale of star-crossed teenage love, and an account of a deeply sensitive young person's struggle to find his place in the world. It marks the debut of a poised and compelling writer.
Keith Fleming had been a pretty ordinary Midwestern kid--Little League, Boy Scouts--but the year he turns twelve, his family is torn apart by divorce when he learns that his mother and his Uncle Ed are both gay. By the time Keith is fifteen he has become disfigured by severe acne and is so wild that his father and stepmother place him in a draconian adolescent mental institution. Here he meets Laura, a pretty Mexican girl with whom he begins a passionate love affair.
Keith's mother finally demands his release after a series of hospitalizations and sends him off to live with his uncle, Edmund White, in New York. Keith is soon transformed by his young uncle: He is sent to a dermatologist, to Barneys "Boy's Town" for new clothes, and to prep school. He receives a broad cultural education from Uncle Ed at home--all this despite Ed's being poor as well as completely caught up in the beehive of social and sexual activity of 1970s gay Manhattan.
In the tradition of This Boy's Life and Girl, Interrupted, The Boy with a Thorn in His Side is a beautifully rendered saga of a deeply sensitive and alienated teen struggling to find his place in the world-and at the same time a very modern tale of teenage love and a young person's touching and complicated bond with an unlikely hero.
About: The nephew of author Edmund White relates the unhappy events of his teenage years that resulted in his being sent to live with his uncle in New York City and describes the strong bond that grew between them.
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