My ‘Funny’ Brother by Robin Malan

01 Dec 2012
My Funny Brother

What’s it like when people at school start saying things about your brother? What do they mean when they say he’s a bit ‘funny’?

But Missy knows better. She knows her brother’s funny – she laughs at him all the time – and she doesn’t care if other people say he’s a bit ‘funny’.

And then something happens that isn’t funny at all …

Date of Publication: 1st December 2012
ISBN: 978-0-9870182-9-8
Publisher: Junkets Publishers
Reviews: “This is a book that has so far been missing from South African children’s literature. No, it doesn’t ‘preach’. But it does explain through good rippling conversation such elements as homophobia, religious prejudice and people being what they are. It doesn’t have illustrations (apart from a very clever cover design) but it does include the word ‘penis’. This comes in what the author warns is ‘a biology lesson’. What pleases me is that the lesson is being explained to the story-telling sister when she is in Grade 4 – which is the age that children should start learning about sexual orientation. Because that’s what this book is about. It is not about sex and hardly mentions the topic.

Thank heavens for the portrayal of a normal family with parents who are ready to understand, accept and above all love their children. I’ll admit the family is abnormal in one way: they turn the TV off at supper time and actually talk to each other. Donovan (or Donnie or Donna when he feels that way) is gay. The other family members have to come to terms with this. They do so, most sensibly. So will any right-thinking young reader who isn’t persuaded otherwise by antique adults who cannot accept the South Africa that our Constitution guarantees for us. Full congratulations to Robin Malan for creating a thoughtful, helpful and – by the end – extremely moving and exciting book. It will probably be shelved by librarians amongst teenage novels, but it is accessible for younger readers than that.” – Jay Heale, Editor of Bookchat

“Missy, the youngest child in a family of five, narrates the story of her relationship with her two brothers, and also with her mother and father. She worships her brother Donovan; also referred to as Donnie or Donna, because he is very happily gay.

When the story begins she is in Grade 3 and Donovan in Grade 11. The older brother Reginald wants to become a policeman when he finishes school.

She talks about her loving relationship with her funny-peculiar brother who plays with her; and who is always an amusing and entertaining companion. The family is a happy one; the story is told in a simple unpretentious style, and as events unfold we are also introduced to Donovan’s boyfriend Zaid. But when Zaid is offered the opportunity to study in America at the Yale School of Management, he has to leave Donovan behind.

At this point in the story a telephone call reaches the family one night, informing them that Donovan is in hospital, having been severely beaten up outside a club. The family learns also that he is now paralysed from the waist down and may never walk again. Eventually Zaid returns home to support Donovan and to help with his care.
From this incident the story intensifies in meaning and one learns how the family and friend deal with this tragedy; in the process, everybody becomes wiser and they even learn to forgive his attackers.

This is an important contribution to gay literature; especially as the narrator is a young girl who clearly loves and admires her gay brother. In fact, this is a family which accepts gayness, clearly teaching the reader that families can form indestructible bonds in their love and commitment to every member.

There are funny, light-hearted moments; a bit of instruction in the use of words and their meanings; and the most beautiful part is undoubtedly the love poem on page 78/79, entitled ‘Me and my man’, in extract:

hey, man, you with your head in the clouds!
walk with me on the high mountain-tops.
your hand in mine, shout out loud
so that the echo leaps and hops!
shout out loud that you love me …

Recommended for private and school collections and libraries.” – Lona Gericke, IBBY SA Newsletter

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