How I Learned to Hate in Ohio tells the story of Barry (Baruch) Nadler as he goes from a much-bullied adolescent in high school and ends when he’s a young adult. His father is a college philosophy professor and his mother travels a lot looking for new sites for Marriott Hotels. He’s relentlessly bullied until a new kid moves to town and becomes his best friend. His friend is named Gurbaksh (Gary) Singh and he is a Sikh. He is self-confident and instantly popular and Barry becomes more popular in his wake.
However, it soon becomes clear that Gurbaksh’s father had ulterior motives in moving to Ohio and Barry’s family is profoundly affected. It all comes to a crescendo when Barry’s dad throws a party, a party where Barry loses the girl, his best friend, and his mother.
How I Learned to Hate in Ohio is an excellent book. It is rich in character and a sense of place. It is full of humor and a love of humanity, a deep empathy that does tell us a lot about human emotions. It does not, however, explain how racism develops and festers. This is a story about Barry, not about the racists who plagued him and whose acts led to so much devastation. Barry does not become a racist. Yes, Barry learns to hate, but it’s personal, not the dehumanizing hate of racism. Barry does not lose his humanity, even when he fails Gary, even when he shames himself, his motivation is not from the dehumanizing hate of racism. So, if you’re looking for an explainer about how racism develops, you won’t find it. You will find, however, that hate comes in many forms, and Barry does learn to hate.
I received an e-galley of How I Learned to Hate in Ohio from the publisher through NetGalley.
- How I Learned to Hate in Ohio at Abrams Books
- David Stuart MacLean