King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar Book Review
Fear, confusion, shame. These are some of the emotions that King has to face throughout the story King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar. King is put through multiple struggles throughout the book, and each one affects him differently.
A struggle King faces throughout the story is grief over his brother's death and how it affects his relationship with Sandy, his best friend. King's brother Khalid passed away, and throughout the story he faces complex and difficult emotions as a result of his brother’s death. Right before Khalid died, King was talking with his best friend Sandy in the tent in their backyard. When they were talking, Sandy told King that he’s gay. “... my brother told me that same night, long after we’d turned out the lights, that I should stay away from Sandy Sanders. ‘You dont want anyone to think you’re gay, too, do you?’...I can't be Sandy’s friend, knowing that my brother wouldn't have wanted me to be” (Callender 26-27). King was wondering what it would be like if he was still Sandy’s friend and feeling nostalgic about how their friendship used to be. King stopped being friends with Sandy only because his brother told him to, and it didn't have a positive effect on either King or Sandy. Instead of cutting off Sandy with no questions asked to make his brother happy, he should’ve done what he wanted to do. Which was staying friends with Sandy. Instead of trying to live how he thinks his brother would have wanted him to, King had to learn to let go of the perfect perception he had of his brother, in order to become his true self, and live how he wanted to.
One of the main problems that King struggles with throughout the story is figuring out who he is and who everyone else wants him to be. One day after school, His friend Jasmine came up to him and told King how she liked him, then asked how he felt. “‘Well?’ She asks, her voice all quiet, like she's waiting for me to say something that will hurt her feelings. I've done enough hurting these past few weeks. I've hurt Sandy's feelings too many times to count. I can't imagine doing the same thing to Jasmine. And if I tell her I don't like her in the same way- will that mean she doesn't want to be my friend anymore?” (Callender 150). King felt like saying yes was the only option and the right thing to do because it's what someone else wanted, even though he didn't want it himself. Instead of telling Jasmine the truth of how he felt he lied to her, which ended up having a negative outcome later in the story when the truth eventually came out and caused more trouble than he tried to save himself.
King soon started to question a lot about himself. When he and Sandy were at Old Man Martin's shack after helping Sandy get away from his abusive father, King started to open up to his old best friend again. He asked him a question that helped King discover a new part of himself. “‘I don't know if I like Jasmine,’ I told him. ‘Not like that, I think I like her as a friend, but not as a girlfriend’” (Callender 164). King was starting to recognize that he wasn't doing what made him happy, he was doing something that made other people happy. This led to him reflecting on the choices he made in the past, prompting him to ask a question that would push King to be honest with himself. “‘I don't know,’ he says. ‘It's just a feeling, I guess.’ ‘What kind of feeling?’ He looks at the metal roof and thinks long and hard. ‘The kind of feeling people always describe in movies and TV shows and books. Where you feel all nervous and excited at the same time. I’d get that feeling for boys but not for girls, so I knew I was gay. I never really felt that way with girls.” (Callender 165) King is wondering what would really make him happy, and how that might not be the same path that others agree with. Asking Sandy this question helped King open up his mind to a possibility that he might not be who he thought he was and who everyone wanted him to be. “I know it's the same way for me. I know it's the same way, because that's exactly how I would feel about Sandy sometimes, getting nervous and excited all at the same time, but the kind of nervous and excited that sent a thrill of happiness through me, too. The thought of saying that outloud makes my stomach twist” (Callender 166). King is put in an uncomfortable situation when faced with feelings of embarrassment from what he’s been told all his life. However, this is also his turning point, as he starts to learn to accept himself as he knows he’s always been from this point forward.
Another issue that King has to face is complicated family relationships and getting his family to accept him as he learned to accept himself. King’s parents, his dad in particular, live by a strict mindset that would not accept their gay son. This makes accepting himself that much more difficult, with the fear of losing his relationship with his dad. “I’d heard him talk about gay people before. I’d heard him say it was wrong. Unnatural. Men are supposed to be with women, because that's just the way it is” (Callender 56). King was thinking about his father’s opinions when he was in the car with his dad, on the way to school. Sandy Sanders had just gone missing, and the radio station that was on was talking about his disappearance. King was wondering how his dad would feel about Sandy going missing if he knew his friend was gay. King was also wondering if his dad would want him to stay away from Sandy, just like Khalid did. King always kept his dad’s opinions about being gay in mind, and it caused him to be afraid to accept himself and ashamed if others didn’t accept him. This fear was confirmed when his dad eventually did find out King was gay. “‘It’s hard, to start to think about you in a different way.’ I'm so surprised he's even talking to me about it that I don't speak for a good long while” (Callender 252). Once again, his dad was driving him to school, and when they arrived his dad started the conversation. When King's family found out his dad wouldn't even look him in the eye or talk to him. When seeing his concerns come to life, King starts to doubt all the progress he’s made in his path to acceptance. All the shame and embarrassment came back to him and took over. During this time, King’s parents were trying to figure out their own thoughts while learning how to adjust to their son coming out. This period, however, planted doubts in King’s mind about where he stood with his parents. He started to believe that being himself drove his parents’ love away.
A significant obstacle that King faces is the ever present issue of racism in his community. When Sandy is brought home after running away, he's not seen for days. King waits for three days before knocking on his front door to try to check on him, and make sure he is okay. When King knocks on the door, Mr. Sanders answers right away. Mr. Sanders gives him the same hospitality smile he always gives him, and King can see right through it. “Sheriff Sanders hates me. I don't know if it's because I'm friends with his son or the color of my skin. Maybe it's both” (Callender 189). Here it is showing how normalized racism, and taking caution with the people he’s around are. “My palms are all sweaty, and I've got nervousness pumping through my veins” (Callender 189).
King was nervous because he couldn't tell if Mr. Sanders was trying to give him the impression of being racist, or if he was just trying to be intimidating. This caused King to feel smaller, and he froze when Mr. Sanders was talking to him. King felt like his throat was closing in on him, and this gave Mr. Sanders the opportunity to dismiss him, before he even had the chance to check on Sandy. I don't think that there was much more that King could have done, besides speaking up and talking to Mr. Sanders.
Throughout the story the dilemmas King is put through caused him to feel fear, confusion, and shame. All of the situations and obstacles he goes through have different effects on him, and help change his perspective in future struggles.