The Center of the World
When I was about 14 I carried a book with me everywhere for months because I just couldn’t let the protagonist go. It must have been the first time that I really fell in love with a book. Welcome to The Center of the World… A coming of age story set in a remote mountain range in Germany; Steinhöfel weaves the elegant tale of a seventeen-year-old boy named Phil. Although the novel does deal with Phil’s sexuality, it primarily illustrates his tumultuous relationship with his unconventional mother, Glass, and reclusive twin sister, Dianne. From the birth of Phil and Dianne by their teenage mother in the prologue of the story, the family occupies a large estate, called Visible, on the outskirts of a socially repressive and ultra-conservative town.
The town not only discriminates against Glass because of her promiscuous nature, but they transfer their criticisms to her two children. Therefore, throughout Phil’s childhood, he feels ostracized despite his mother’s advice to ignore the harshness of the "Little People," or the people who inhabit the town. Phil does discover refuge in the form of a young and vivacious girl named Kat, who becomes his one and only ally. However, despite Phil’s seeming acceptance of his sexuality, he does not believe that his family or his friends would approve of his relationship with a charming and attractive runner, named Nicholas, who becomes his first boyfriend. The novel is written in a first-person narrative with intermittent flashbacks that describe the roots of Phil’s personality.
Steinhöfel’s greatest accomplishment is that he portrays homosexual relationships as the equivalent of heterosexual relationships. By demonstrating that the journey toward self-discovery of a young gay man is the same as that of a young straight man, Steinhöfel shows that discriminatory views on homosexuality are completely unfounded. In addition to vividly depicting Visible’s breath taking surroundings, his crisp and graceful prose provides insight into Phil’s complex thoughts and emotions. Satisfying the reader with Phil’s self-discovery, the author does an excellent job of balancing the scales between satisfaction and misery, having and wanting. By the end of the novel, one aches with a confused combination of happiness and grief. Steinhöfel and his novel deserve every word of praise!