Broadway and television star Andy Mientus evokes the spirits of 1991 for his queer supernatural novel, Fraternity, set in… a fraternity. This is dark academia with 90s nostalgia, filled with the demons that young men face.
We meet Zachariah “Zooey” Orson as he transfers to the elite Blackfriars School for Boys after leaving his old school under a cloud of scandal. The new kid in class, he tries to fly under the radar until he attracts the attention of a homophobic bully. He also attracts the attention of the Vicious Circle; a secret society of queer students who offer a safe space in the school for him. Among them are handsome jock Daniel, his camp “roommate” Leo, and the bookish Steven.
With the help of this group of gay rebels, Zooey begins to find his feet, with Mientus serving us a gay 90s history primer between the satisfying soap opera beats. As he starts to find himself, Zooey begins to notice strange things around the Vicious Circle. Yes, these gay students are finding their power, literally, with the help of the dark arts. It starts out small—making people help them get into a screening of My Own Private Idaho—but things soon take a darker turn.
What initially feels like a queer version of The Craft or The Covenant—sorry let me rephrase that, an overtly queer version of The Craft or The Covenant—moves into more complex territory, as touches of films like Chronicle creep in, along with the horror. The way power corrupts and reveals our flaws is the bedrock of Mientus’ narrative. At first this is a positive thing. Young gay men, used to hiding in plain sight, find strength and space to grow in their secret club. But as their power increases, and tragic circumstances fuel their rage, things begin to spiral… and people start dying.
Fraternity is at its best when it’s fun and frothy; a supernatural story with touches of 90s gay history woven throughout, with enjoyable wrinkles in the narrative. Each chapter is first-person—cycling between Zooey, Daniel, and Leo—not all of whom are entirely reliable. Mientus uses each to touch on wider issues like racism, AIDs and politics. One of the best storylines sees one of the teens use his newfound power to recreate his life to make himself more of a ‘man’, embodying a toxic form of strength and heteronormativity, as his internalized homophobia surfaces.
Mientus tries to cover a lot of ground, and it feels like there are a couple of books, even a trilogy’s worth of ideas here, some of which could have benefited more room to breathe, such as the well-handled strand about coming out as bisexual, which steps beyond cliché. As the tale broadens out past the boundaries of the school it loses a some of its focus, while the pacing feels a little off at times. There are also some overly convenient coincidences along the way, but there’s a juicy, thrilling story, with some honest observations that ground the supernatural antics in real emotions and LGBTQ+ history.
By Chad Armstrong
Fraternity by Andy Mientus is available now. Please support your nearest queer-owned bookstore if you can.