School Days by Jonathan Galassi is a rivetting gay fiction novel told from the perspective of Sam Brandt, a former student of Leverett, an elite boarding school in New England, and current English teacher at the prep school.
The story opens in the fall of 2007 when Sam is asked by the school’s head about a disgruntled former student who attended Leverett when he was a student there. The conversation transports Sam back to his days as a student in the mid-1960s and life at the (then) all boys boarding school. Galassi paints a picture of love and longing (both platonic and erotic) as Sam reminisces about his high school years, his group of friends, and Theo Gibson, a teacher who went on to have a profound impact on him, his friends and many associated with the school. As a teenager, Sam is unable to come to terms with his sexuality and a love that could not be returned, by his schoolmate Eddie. Reminiscing about those years, he recalls an “irresistible tropism toward Eddie’s knotted masculine integrity, his warmth… which he could only experience in those tight embraces”.
As the book switches back to the early 2000s, Sam is forced to look at those formative years through a more adult and critical lens when accusations of impropriety and possible abuse are raised by a former student. These two storylines are profound and strike a nerve with me. Sam’s teenage years — filled with a sense of confusion, longing and feeling of “otherness” — are too easy for me to relate to. As an adult, Sam’s, unrequited emotions, repressed for so long come to a head as he reconnects with former friends and classmates. Through these conversations and rehashed memories, he is forced to accept responsibility for the choices he made, make peace with them, and move forward.
The setting and Sam’s memory provide a romanticized backdrop of his formative teenage years. Yhe range of emotions and struggles he faces are relatable even for those who never attended boarding school. While the story initially appears to be about Sam trying to learn the truth about what happened on campus all those years ago, the real take away is the need we all have for acceptance and love. The book is entertaining and satisfying on several levels thanks to Galassi’s easy writing style and the beautiful way he uses language to depict touching and important moments in Sam’s life. The two storylines from life in 1967 and 2007 entwine, separate, and come back together again seamlessly and provide Sam with some fairly profound insights about himself and the school he loves so much.
If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for School Days.