It’s a long, long journey from school cafeteria hell to boogie wonderland, and we all need a Virgil to show us the way. Fifteen, pale, chubby, awkward and bullied, Leonard walks among the terrors of 1975 Berkeley, California, with an angel on his shoulder, he just doesn’t know it yet. Meanwhile, his opposite number, Rick—older, wiser, connected, gorgeous—stumbles on the road to salvation. Alvin Orloff’s third novel enacts, in hilariously satiric terms, something of love’s pull on us, a love that surprises and delights even when it’s almost more absurd than we can stand.
– Kevin Killian
In this endearingly funny novel, set during the cultural no-man’s-land of the mid-1970s, Orloff has created a hero I loved spending time with. Don’t pity Leonard: he may be spiritually and sexually confused, alternately bullied and bored in his faceless suburban high school, but there’s no doubt he’ll find a way out. Naïve but resourceful, insecure yet self-motivated, Leonard sneaks out of his house for the summer to find the meaning of life, then winds up with a weird and ineffectual Christian cult. His spiritual quest has less to do with his love for Jesus than with his lust for Rick, the shirtless hippie preacher who mesmerizes Leonard with a smile and a promise of happiness. But in the end, it’s Leonard who has a thing or two to teach Rick. Alvin Orloff writes with a sharp mind and a gentle touch. Why Aren’t You Smiling? put a smile on my face.
– K. M. Soehnlein
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