This novel continues the coming of age story that began in Eldot’s Julian’s Private Scrapbook series. Set in the early 1960s, it recounts the events in Julian’s life during the beginning months of his first year of high school. He is forced to make new friends and learn about girls; the strange, exciting new world called high school is completely different from anything he has known, but he is up to the challenge.
The title is taken from the refrain his mother and her friend continually use when explaining to Julian that he must pay attention to his clothes now, and be aware of other new “rules.” His mother expects him to take out girls—he is in high school now. There is a problem with that: Julian has a romantic interest already. That’s his big secret, of course. It has to be: the object of his affection is the scoutmaster, Mark.
Julian attracts the attention of Rita, one of the school’s prettiest and socially prominent girls; she invites him to the Sadie Hawkins dance. Julian’s complete ignorance about Rita’s intentions during the dance and the car ride afterwards (as well as his description to his mother later) provides some of the novel’s greatest entertainment.
A more detailed portrait of Mark: we meet his wife and learn about their marriage—and we learn why Julian has good reason to have Mark in his crosshairs. After six years of mourning the loss of his first love partner, Mark is ready to move on. Unaware of Julian’s goal, he begins to explore other possibilities.
A third storyline involves Randall, a boy who has recently moved from Washington State. A victim of bullying at his previous school, Randall is instantly drawn to Julian. Circumstances bring them together and they form an immediate, deep friendship. Julian introduces Randall to his scout troop and takes an interest in his photography, and Randall is deeply impressed by Julian’s drawing skills. The two bring out the best in each other.
The sex scenes are not erotic; however, they are explicit and sensitively drawn because they are important to the story. The human condition is complex, and Mother Nature’s equally complex sense of humor underlies the action.
Julian has met two sizable challenges and been able to prevail—Mark too has reached a new place in his ongoing internal tug of war. Since the story has taken nearly 200 thousand words, this is a logical point to pause the telling of their story. The novel’s last page brings the reader to a pause rather than a conclusion. It anticipates part 2, where the situation promises to become far more complicated. Julian has another six months as a sophomore, and they are full of fun and surprise.