"Brorby has written not only a truly great memoir, but also a frighteningly relevant one that speaks to the many battles we still have left to fight." —Jung Yun, New York Times Book Review
From a young, gay environmentalist, a searing coming-of-age memoir set against the arid landscape of rural North Dakota, where homosexuality “seems akin to a ticking bomb.”
“I am a child of the American West, a landscape so rich and wide that my culture trembles with terror before its power.” So begins Taylor Brorby’s Boys and Oil, a haunting, bracingly honest memoir about growing up gay amidst the harshness of rural North Dakota, “a place where there is no safety in a ravaged landscape of mining and fracking.”
In visceral prose, Brorby recounts his upbringing in the coalfields; his adolescent infatuation with books; and how he felt intrinsically different from other boys. Now an environmentalist, Brorby uses the destruction of large swathes of the West as a metaphor for the terror he experienced as a youth. From an assault outside a bar in an oil boom town to a furtive romance, and from his awakening as an activist to his arrest at the Dakota Access Pipeline, Boys and Oil provides a startling portrait of an America that persists despite well-intentioned legal protections.
About the Author
Taylor Brorby is an essayist and poet. The coeditor of Fracture, his work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Orion, and North American Review, where he is a contributing editor.
Years ago, I had a student who wrote wonderful short stories but struggled to translate her skills to creative nonfiction. At 18, she didn’t think anyone would want to read about her life because she’d grown up in a small Midwestern town where ‘nothing ever happened.’ How I wish Taylor Brorby’s new memoir, ‘Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land,’ had existed back then so I could share it with her... As in Tara Westover’s ‘Educated,’ learning allowed Brorby to envision a different kind of future for himself, one that would eventually lead him to places where people were more accepting of his sexuality.... A great memoir, however, renders moments wholly outside of the reader’s experience in ways that evoke emotion and understanding. I tensed with fear at Brorby’s recollections of harassment and beatings, felt the still-unhealed wound of his being outed by his aunt and effectively estranged from his parents, and teared up with hope when he came out to his beloved grandfathers.... Brorby has written not only a truly great memoir, but also a frighteningly relevant one that speaks to the many battles we still have left to fight. — Jung Yun - New York Times Book Review
Environmental activist Taylor Brorby masterfully recounts his upbringing... Brorby’s memoir opens with superbly detailed insight into North Dakota’s geography, which becomes a powerful symbol throughout Boys and Oil. This jagged imagery grounds the narrative and the author’s journey, and Brorby’s attention to it throughout the book feels nearly ekphrastic, with sweeping, alluring descriptions of a land that is at once beautiful and damaged... Queer politics calls perceived norms to task, subverting the status quo and making it possible for new structures to emerge. In his unique and breathtaking memoir, Brorby does just this, creating wonderful new categories for rural communities and American masculinity, and for gay kids’ places within both.
— Timothy Burger, Bookpage, starred review
To put it simply, Boys and Oil is my most anticipated book of 2022. In this coming-of-age memoir, Brorby reflects on growing up gay in rural North Dakota, where mining and fracking has left indelible scars upon both the land and the people that call it home. Filled with some of the most beautiful language and deepest insights on activism, love, and belonging that I’ve read in years, Boys and Oil is essential reading for anyone interested in environmentalism and the American West.
— Michael Welch - Chicago Review of Books
Taylor’s North Dakota memoir is the pain of human existence amid the poetry of natural beauty. The love for North Dakota’s land shines from every page. One can feel prairie breezes through the hair, and smell the wildflowers. But this loveliness is nestled within an alienation from the people who inhabit the same land. I found myself laughing out loud in parts and with tears in my eyes in others. It is a touching and difficult story about growing up gay in the land of my childhood. It is a book that everyone should read. — Waylon Hedegaard - High Plains Review
A searing account of growing up in the harsh landscape of North Dakota, essayist and poet Taylor Brorby charts his path of often painful self-discovery with visceral clarity. As Brorby writes, 'There are no lived stories of gay people where I come from.' Now there is. — Chicago Review of Books, "12 Must-Read Books of June"
[A] lyrical meditation . . . Engrossing . . . [A] beautiful and complex look at how one can grow in the most unlikely places. Even at its most elegiac, this brims with quiet hope. — Publishers Weekly
In elegant chapters that often form stand-alone essays, we see Brorby easing into his own skin, acknowledging both the beauty and rough edges of his rural upbringing, and discovering that he is far from alone . . . A closely observed account of both landscape and self. — Kirkus Reviews
Brorby writes movingly about this experience and its consequences . . . Divided into seven parts, prefaced by a prologue and concluding with a coda, the memoir focuses on Brorby's life as an out gay man but makes room for his efforts as an environmental activist, experiencing the Bakken oil boom and fighting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He ends the book by lamenting that, in North Dakota, 'there is no place for me.' But there is in the pages of this fine book. — Michael Cart - Booklist