Byron Lane, left and Chasten Buttigieg

Terri Schlichenmeyer | Bookworm Sez

Big Gay Wedding by Byron Lane; c.2023, Holt; $26.99; 336 pages.

Few things are cast in stone — which means that you’ve usually got time to change your mind. Do a little research, listen to other voices, get educated, think about things and pivot.

No one will criticize; you may, in fact, be commended for your new open-mindedness. And, as in the new book, Big Gay Wedding by Byron Lane, you might like the new outlook, too.

Chrissy Durang, “Farmer Mom” and owner of the Polite Society Ranch near New Orleans, checked two things off a list in her notebook.

The school bus filled with noisy children arrived for their tour of the ranch, check. Barnett should be arriving later, check.

Thirty-four-year-old Barnett was the light in Chrissy’s world, her son, her only child, the near-exact image of his late father. She was excited for his homecoming; surely, Barnett was flying from California to tell her he was ready to take over the ranch now, take care of the animals, take care of her.

Instead, not long after he arrived, Barnett dropped a bombshell about “The Big Thing” that they never discussed: He was engaged. To be married. To another man. And he wanted to do it there in Mader, at Polite Society Ranch.

Chrissy could think of a million things she didn’t like about Barnett’s intended, Ezra, and they all went into her notebook: Hair a mess, check. Controlling, check. Butt-kisser, check. Dream-killer, check.

And yet, Barnett loved Ezra. It’d been a long time since Chrissy had seen her son this happy.

She talked to her priest about the situation, but he disappointed her in a terrible way. It was clear that her father-in-law, Paw-Paw, was supportive of Barnett and Ezra, which was no surprise; Barnett was always Paw-Paw’s favorite.

Chrissy didn’t have many friends in her small Louisiana town, but she was absolutely sure of three things: Nobody would approve of any sort of gay nuptials; Ezra’s family was downright weird, and everybody in Mader would blame her for what was about to happen.
At face value, the story inside Big Gay Wedding seems awfully familiar: homophobic mom, gay son, wedding, Kumbaya moment, the end. Keep thinking that, though, and you’ll miss one truly wonderful novel.

From the paraprosdokian sentences to the Misfit Toys cast of characters, author Byron Lane takes readers from a deep dive into a box of tissues to a good snorting belly laugh, often in the same paragraph. So many unexpected, delightful things occur inside this story, in fact, that you may become disappointed when something conventional occurs.
Which it does, often enough.

Gay bashing, protesters, haters, misunderstanding, it’s-a-phase thinking — all the bad old tropes show up in this story, alas. Still, readers will be happy to know that they’re dealt with properly, just as you’d expect from a prissy mother, an alcoholic society matron, two men wildly in love, a light-fingered grandfather and a dying sheep named Elaine.

Summer is always a time for weddings, and it’s a great time to enjoy this sweet, funny, excellent novel. Simply, Big Gay Wedding rocks.

I Have Something to Tell You (For Young Adults) by Chasten Buttigieg; c.2023, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; $18.99; 209 pages.
Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Once you’ve done something, you can say whether you like it, and you’ll do it again — or not.

The subject comes with a different viewpoint, once you’ve gotten a little experience with it. You’re wiser, more confident. As in the new book I Have Something to Tell You by Chasten Buttigieg, you’ll have the chops to offer valid advice.

If you’d have asked 8-year-old Chasten Buttigieg what life was like, he probably would’ve told you about his big brothers and how wild and daring they were. He would’ve said he didn’t have many friends and that he loved his parents.

He wouldn’t have told you about being gay, though, because he had no frame of reference, no experience or role models. He just knew then that he was “different.”

A year later, he watched Will & Grace on TV for the first time, and it was hilarious. But he had to be careful. Already, he understood that being “someone ‘like that’” had to be hidden. He watched Ellen, and he was sure that “gay people weren’t found in places” like his Northern Michigan home town.

For much of his childhood, Buttigieg says he was bullied, but being lonely was worse. He was awkward, but he found his happy place in theater.

“In school,” he says, “I felt a constant tug-of-war between where I was and where I wanted to be,” between authenticity and pretending. A year as a high school senior exchange student in gay-friendly Germany, then a “safe space” in college in Wisconsin clarified many things and helped him gain confidence and “broaden [his] perspective.”

By the time he met the man he calls Peter, “I felt at ease to present myself in ways I hadn’t felt comfortable doing…”
Still, he says, whether things may be better or they may be worse, “We’ve got a long way to go, but you, the reader, get to be a part of that promising future.”

Filled with an abundance of dad jokes and a casual, chatty tone that never once feels pushy or overbearing, I Have Something to Tell You may seem like deja vu for good reason. This gently-altered version of a 2020 memoir, meant for kids ages 12 and up, says all the right things in a surprisingly paternal way.

And yet, none of it is preachy or even stern.

Though there are brief peeks at his adult life on the campaign trail with his husband, now-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the heart of author Chasten Buttigieg’s book is all memoir, set in a loving household in a small town. It’s lightly humorous but not trite; to this, Buttigieg adds a layer of subtle advice, and genuineness to a tale that’s familiar to adults and that will appeal to young, still-figuring-it-out teens.

You can expect a “you are not alone” message in a book like this, but it comes with an upbeat, fatherly calm. For a teen who needs that, reading I Have Something to Tell You will be a good experience.