Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story Book Poster Image
Gay teen's coming out becomes a musical in fun, campy novel.

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age 14+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A Broadway fanatic's dream, Hold Me Closer contains numerous references to shows and actors throughout musical-theater history. Some of the puns are more obscure than others, but, if nothing else, Tiny creates a world in which the heroes and heroines of song and stage are held above all others.

Positive Messages

Tiny's story is not only about embracing his own identity but about accepting his need to be loved and balancing it with his obligation to love himself and those around him. Coming to terms with his sexuality and his large body type are only the first steps in learning how to approach friendship and romance, and in his futile search for a perfect love Tiny realizes that "it's all about falling -- you land and get up so you can fall again." Body positive, pro-gay, and anti-bully, Hold Me Closer is a proud rebuttal to the negative stereotyping adolescents often endure.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Accepting parents and supportive friends allow Tiny Cooper to come out of the closet relatively painlessly, though he makes it quite clear that it is still a struggle. His charmingly teenage quest to explore his sexuality and the meaning of relationships reveals a courageous kid with a big heart to go along with his big body. A drama nerd and an athlete, lover of both Les Miz and the Chicago Bears, Tiny both embodies and rejects stereotypes about young gay men, while his fabulous fashion and over-the-top musical numbers leave no doubt as to his flamboyant pride.

Violence
Sex

One onstage kiss. There also are some racy, tongue-in-cheek jokes, as is to be expected in a story about a boy coming of age in the modern, post-Stonewall world. One song -- "Second Base" -- is about a young Tiny not knowing how boys who like boys can express their love physically, while another -- "Summer of Gay"-- describes his lusty drama-camp experience. He tells his parents about downloading porn and how "when I jerk off, I think of boys." There are gay inside jokes, including a reference to "otters" (an otter is slang for a gay man who's hairy all over but smaller in size than a "bear") and someone being "queer as a flamingo in drag." But the bawdy jokes are basically PG-13, with the exception of Tiny's ode to staying a virgin, "Saving Myself," when he professes, "Someday my prince will come, and when he does we'll come and come and come."

Language

One use of "faggot" in the opening song, a lyric about "Red Bull dykes," another about Tiny's friend Phil worrying about the coach kicking his "ass,"  the made-up word "dickstracting," and one lyric using "come" in the sexual sense.

Consumerism

There are lots of references to famous shows and Disney movies, but they serve to demonstrate Tiny's superfandom and obsession with pop culture.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Tiny admits that he's responsible for his mother's vodka bottles being watered down.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that David Levithan's Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story is a hilarious and campy young adult novel about a boy's journey of self-discovery as a "big-boned" gay teen, presented in the format of a Broadway musical script with plenty of stage directions that serve as Tiny's commentary. The Tiny Cooper character was first introduced in Will, Grayson, Will Grayson, the bestselling YA novel by Levithan and John Green. Filled with silly pop-culture and theater-history jokes, Hold Me Closer is perfect for high schoolers, especially kids in drama and performing arts classes. Multidimensional and more profound than meets the eye, the novel twists archetypal narratives about characters across the sexuality spectrum and tells an honest story about a realistic and sympathetic protagonist grappling with the ecstasy and heartbreak of young love. There are references to homosexual relations, pornography, and masturbation but no strong language other than one "helluva" and a lyric about a boy worrying that a coach might kick his "ass." Body-positive and anti-bully, Hold Me Closer is a proud rebuttal to the negative stereotyping adolescents often endure.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written bygreenloversara August 14, 2015
This is a nice and easy read. You might want to read Will Grayson Will Grayson first in order to understand this book

What's the story?

HOLD ME CLOSER: THE TINY COOPER STORY is a musical novel by David Levithan, author of many YA novels, including the book-turned-movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It tells the life story of flamboyant and proud drama nerd Tiny Cooper, from his appearance on the scene as a "big gay baby" up through his childhood, in which sports were sacred, and on to his immersion in the theater, his proclamation of his sexual orientation, and the end of the book, with the "Parade of Ex-Boyfriends" who have thus far dashed his quest for teen romance. 

Is it any good?

The opening number of the show (in which Tiny declares he's "happily G-A-Y") makes it explicitly clear that readers who are uncomfortable with homosexuality should stop reading. In fact, Tiny's stage directions following the song state, "If anyone is going to object to this musical, they will have left the theater at this point." But those with an open mind will find a heartwarming, clever, and universal story about the growing pains of puberty and the endless search for love and meaning. There are goofy puns and silly rhymes; a few of the pop-culture jokes don't land; and the story and message are straightforward almost to the point of being too blatant. But these minor shortcomings are overwhelmingly obscured by the sheer boldness and positivity of the script. The dialogue is a perfect facsimile of stereotypical musical theater, and the use of chorus members, supporting characters, and even the ghost of Oscar Wilde give the story a dynamism that would be ideal for the stage. 

Although there's no music (yet), readers can imagine the show-stopping choreography and catchy melodies for themselves, adding an element of audience participation. Hold Me Closer is seemingly written for gay teens, but it's equally appealing to anyone interested in the challenges of young adulthood and self-acceptance. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficulty of "coming out." What sort of pressures do young teens feel in needing to define, understand, and declare their sexual orientations?

  • Tiny is searching for a profound and pure love to give his life meaning but is disappointed time and time again. How does writing and performing give him another source of passion? Why does it often help to express your personal struggles and traumas through creating and sharing art?

  • Do you think it's becoming more acceptable in middle and high schools for kids to be openly gay? Why, or why not?

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