Ferris, Jean. Eight Seconds. Harcourt, 2000. ISBN 978-0152023676 192 pp. $
John thinks that when he had open-heart surgery as a child, maybe the doctors forget to replace an essential piece, because he doesn’t want to marry Kelsey, his girlfriend who is pushing for an after-graduation commitment. Eager to escape, John is thrilled when his dad signs him up for rodeo camp, where he discovers an odd and deep kinship with Kit.
Upon his return home, John is stunned to learn that the confident and poised young man is openly gay at his college. John is forced to make fast and tough choices about his views on homosexuality as the news spreads. The local bully, Russ, begins tormenting Kit at local rodeos–and then finds John guilty by association. In a startling climax, John blames Kit for his confusion and scapegoathood and attacks him, pushed over the edge by Russ’s comments.
It takes a little too long for the protagonist to realize what the reader already suspects: that John, too, may be gay. His inner turmoil is only beginning when the book ends. To give her credit, Ferris doesn’t take the easy way out, and the ending is not what most readers will be rooting for, but it is a fitting one that will hopefully tug at heartstrings and increase awareness and tolerance.
The book is a step in the right direction for teaching tolerance and breaking down stereotypes. The cover art is a bit juvenile. The cowboy on the cover looks like a scrawny kid in a too-big hat, and may be a turnoff to teens, and they will miss out on a wonderful story about the things you can’t control–and the things you can. Eight Seconds is definitely another contender for best books for young adults from Ferris, and the subject matter itself demands purchase; libraries with small budget may want to wait for the paperback in the hopes of a more attractive cover.