Book Review: Boy Wander – A Coming of Age Memoir

Cover of the nonfiction book "Boy Wander: A Coming of Age Memoir" by Jobert E. Abueva. The cover depicts a close-up image of a door handle with a sign hanging onto it. The sign includes the title, subtitle, and author name, and a rainbow sweatband is stretched around it.

Content warning: child rape

Set mostly in the Philippines, Japan, and Nepal in the span of about a decade (1970-1982), Boy Wander details our fearless author’s sexual awakening as a pre-teen and his endless pursuit to satisfy a high libido without revealing to anyone he is gay.

Jobert’s memoir begins with an account of being raped as a young boy — though it is unclear whether this should be read as the awakening itself or an encounter on the journey. All ambiguity quickly dissipates, however, when he learns how to masturbate, then graduates to the art of seeking out the pleasurable company of men.

Instead of coming out of the closet, Jobert keeps his night life separate from the life he leads at home and school. He takes on a robust academic schedule by day and moonlights at one of the city’s notorious hookup hotels for gay men. As the son of a frequently-moving diplomat, this doesn’t leave many folks for Jobert to confide in about his sexual identity, except for the rotary of older gay men passing through the Imperial Hotel. The least unsavory of them all, Leonard, might be Jobert’s only confidante, and Jobert only encounters him a handful of times in his youth. Leonard is the only one who seems to care about Jobert’s safety, especially when rumor of AIDS hits Japan. Why is it that the most resonating stories about loneliness involve the largest groups of people? (Cue that line from The Great Gatsby.)

While I don’t have an extensive reading background on queer memoir and bildungsroman, what I can say is that Jobert’s memoir takes on these familiar forms of queer coming-of-age and rips them off the page, revealing underneath the raw tissue of taboo exposed fresh air. You want to root for his success every time he narrowly scrapes by without blowing his cover, because nothing means more to a teenager than surviving with pride. Ditto reflecting on heartbreak, which Jobert encounters time and again with high school crushes and his relatively wholesome rendezvouses with Leonard, a mentor worth rooting for in many ways.

Fans of the film Lady Bird and Albert Samaha’s post-colonial family memoir Concepcion will find solace in the coming-of-age antics of Boy Wander. Jobert Abeuva’s memoir is equal parts wise-assed and innocent; youthful yet experienced; intimate yet open-ended, eager to tell us what happens next.

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery, a book-sharing platform where book reviewers gain early access to new titles in independent publishing. If you want to become a reviewer, apply here.