This month I had the opportunity to read the new release, Ziggy, Stardust and Me, and wanted to devote this week’s The Bi Line to this remarkable teen read. Set in 1973, the story follows sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, who feels completely alone. Bullied, anxious, and asthmatic, the teenager finds a safe haven in his own imagination where he can find guidance through his hero, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and dead relatives, including his mother. Within this world of his creation he can be anyone and anything, even “normal.” As a boy who likes other boys, Jonathan is going through treatments to “help him become normal,” but someone comes into his life that changes everything. Web, a boy with secrets of his own, provides a sort of escape that Jonathan never expected and through this he may finally be able to find acceptance.
Ziggy, Stardust and Me is told from Jonathan’s perspective and shifts between his every day life and his world of imagination. As the primary source of information for the story, readers are kept slightly uninformed initially with certain events being kept secret from them. When Jonathan begins building a friendship with Web, he tries to open himself up, which leads him to have to go to a place he hasn’t been in years. This friendship is also the first time he has discussed visiting a therapist with someone other than his best friend Starla. While Jonathan is the primary voice of the story, through his observations readers are shown the heightened level of emotion and fear that is spreading during this time in American history. One teacher in particular is described as crying more than once while discussing class assignments, which tie into a fear of the world ending in just a few short years as well as the loss students are coping with in connection to the Vietnam War. James Brandon brings together these emotional topics under the umbrella of what life was like for people coming of age during this fraught period of American history.
There are many heartbreaking elements to this story that capture the various elements of Jonathan’s life. Each time he feels himself attracted or even just being overly friendly with Web he literally feels a jolt in his body. The treatments he is going through involve shock therapy, which means that the jolting feeling is not one of happiness, but of fear. When these feelings arise Jonathan feels an intense pressure to remove them from his mind, which is devastating. Beyond that he is feeling more lost than ever with the fear of Starla leaving for the summer and with there seeming to be no escape from his father, whose moods seem to fluctuate by the day. As I read this story I just wanted to hug Jonathan and cheered when he and Web began to grow closer. The reveal of the events that Jonathan have kept secret from the reader will shock you, but will lead you to understand so much about what has been happening to Jonathan. Brandon’s story is beautifully mastered and is a read that will stick with you for a long time after you’ve put it down. Even though this may be noted as a young adult read I think that this is something anyone would enjoy, especially those looking for solid LGBTQ+ reading recommendations. You can get your own copy of Ziggy, Stardust and Me anywhere books are sold.