Review of The Bermudez Triangle
While I generally try to keep my blog entries centered around new books I’ve read, I couldn’t resist the siren song of one of my favorite Maureen Johnson books, The Bermudez Triangle. I’m a big fan of reading books again and again, and this is one I revisit often.
The Bermudez Triangle is about a group of lifelong best friends: Nina, Mel, and Avery. They’re al very different- Nina is the neat, focused president of the student council, Mel is the adorable boy magnet, and Avery is the perpetually snarky piano talent. When the book begins, the three are beginning the summer before their senior year. Nina’s off to Stanford for a pre-college program and Mel and Avery will be slaving away as waitresses. They don’t know how they’ll bear ten weeks apart, but the Bermudez Triangle, as they’ve been dubbed, is strong enough to withstand anything, or so they think. What they didn’t bank on was Nina falling in love with Stanford, Calfornia, and also the ecowarrior down the hall, Steve. And they especially couldn’t forsee that shy, reserved Mel would finally have her first kiss… with Avery.
I mentioned this book in a previous entry, noting that it had been banned at several schools, as well as having ban threats at even more. The reason for this is obvious: the book spends a good amount of pages discussing the experiences and reactions to two girls dating. The book was published in 2004, but still, the idea that a homosexual relationship could be portrayed a good thing was (and sometimes still is) a new one, one that makes many people uncomfortable. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I hesitated to read the book because I had never read any material, fictional or otherwise, on the topic. When I did, though, I was so glad I had. I read the book towards the end of my high school career when a lot of my friends were coming out and I didn’t know how to handle it. I tried to be supportive, but Stuart and I come from a town that is pretty conventional, and these topics, on the whole, are rarely discussed and I wasn’t sure how I felt about anything.
The Bermudez Triangle did not teach me tolerance. It taught me acceptance and understanding of what my friends were going through. The book is told from all three girls’ points of view, so we not only see the spark of Mel and Avery’s relationship and their love or each other, but we also see Nina’s struggle to understand and support her friends while feeling left out because they have taken their relationship to a new level. Because of this book, I could see how my friends were feeling and what they might be going through, as well as seeing that Nina could be as baffled as I sometimes felt.
As usual, Maureen Johnson writes with effortless skill. This read-through, especially, I would sometimes stop and marvel at how well she wrote. As I always say of her, she has the incredible ability to write intense, honest drama while occasionally dropping in a wry or laugh-out-loud funny observation or comment. She doesn’t draw attention to it or make it more than it needs to be. The comment is simply there to be read and appreciated. Johnson understands better than many writers how to put people’s minds on paper. I suppose that’s why the above seems so natural- it’s the way people think (or at least it’s the way I think.) I would also like Maureen Johnson to find me a boyfriend. She writes some of the most intensely likeable male characters that make me want to climb into the book and date them. I feel like she could find someone like her characters in real life and point me in their direction.
The best thing about The Bermudez Triangle is that while the catalyst for the novel is Mel and Avery’s relationship, it’s not the only focus of the book, or of the character’s thoughts. Nina spends the novel working hard to be accepted into Stanford early decision, Avery restrains herself every day from throttling the annoying customers at the restaurant (Mel is far too timid to do such a thing) and argues with herself over whether she’s talented enough to get into a music conservatory, and Mel tries to come to terms with her own sexuality separately from dating Avery, never having officially labeled herself before now.
Johnson’s books stand out because of her way with words and her ability to see beyond the obvious. A few of her books- The Bermudez Triangle, The Name of the Star, and 13 Little Blue Envelopes, to be specific- take what, in another author’s hands, would be a basic, run-of-the-mill story even if well-written, and adds events and characters to it that make that story deliciously rich. Without Johnson’s touch, the books would end earlier and much too soon, but in her hands, they find the perfect time for completion.
So I’m not just recommending The Bermudez Triangle in this review- I’m recommending all of Maureen Johnson’s books!
“I caught Bob sitting out back by the Dumpster reading PC Gamer on his break. I had a cigarette, and he gave me one of those ‘ew, you smoke?’ kind of looks.So I gave him one of those ‘sex with your Sims girlfriend doesn’t count’ kind of looks back.”
“That was the problem with dating your best friend- you needed a really serious reason to stop. It was kind of a permanent situation. It was like she’d gotten married without realizing it.”
“There was something about the way this [conservatory] brochure was designed that screamed: YOU WILL NEVER BE THIS GOOD. GIVE UP NOW, LOSER, WHILE RITE AID IS STILL HIRING.”
“If I were this guy and I had a totally devoted girlfriend who wrote to me every day and called me all the time, I would drive out her and live in my car.”
“But he rides a bike.”
“He’s going to need a car for my plan. It doesn’t have to be a good car.”
“Fine,” Mel said. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“No,” [Parker] said, grabbing her arm. “I know what happens in girls’ bathrooms. They’re like black holes. You’ll never come back.”
“So figure out what to do. Mingle. Turn on your charm.”
“Where’s the switch?”
“Let Nina find the switch,” Mel replied with a grin.
Parker licked his finger and marked an imaginary point in the air. “You aren’t supposed to make jokes like that,” he told her. “Bad lesbian. No Indigo Girls for you.”
“Could I kiss you?” he asked.
“We have a lot in common. You breathe air. I breathe air. You’re gorgeous and super-talented and head pf the student council. I look like I’m twelve and I’m part of a secret society that changes the letters in signs. You’re going to Stanford. I might get into SUNY Purchase. I think it could work.”
“Nina remembered the day Avery had come to her and tried to explain that she was confused, that she didn’t think she was gay. At the time, that had seemed ridiculous- not like something you could be in a gray area about. And then it dawned on her. Avery had just fallen for a friend, and then realized she didn’t really like her that way. It was actually kind of logical. It wasn’t unlike what had happened with Parker.”
“I always do this. I like girls I can’t have. It’s like the number one thing I look for- total unavailability. I liked Mel, even though I was pretty sure she was gay. I liked you, and you had a super-serious boyfriend. I’m thinking maybe next time I’ll look for someone who’s in jail or a coma.”