Jeff is joined by special guest co-host, author Julian Winters, to talk about favorite young adult books of 2022. They discuss books by Kalynn Bayron, Aaron H. Aceves, Erik J. Brown, A.L. Graziadei, Simon James Green, Kosoko Jackson, Adib Khorram, Phil Stamper, R. Eric Thomas, as well as one from Julian. In addition, Jeff and Julian get into the spirit of the season discussing holiday traditions and a favorite childhood gift.

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Show Notes

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Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re looking back at some favorite YA reads in 2022 with a special guest co-host.

Welcome to Episode 408 of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast,” the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and for the very first time ever, Will’s taken the week off and I am joined by someone who is so perfect to talk about queer YA with, author Julian Winters. Julian, welcome. It is so awesome to have you here.

Julian: Thank you so much. It is unbelievably awesome for me to be here. I cannot believe I’m getting to do this, I can’t believe I’m gonna do something more than just like a quick segment.

Jeff: Of all the people I could have for the first co-host, I’m like, “Who do I want to talk about YA with?” And you were like the person to talk about YA with because you’re always on Twitter amplifying books, talking about what you’ve read. I have a long list of the things you’ve read ARCs about that you like this book, this is really good, it’ll come in six months. You know, got to talk about a favorite YA, it’s like, “Yes.”

Julian: Yes, I know, I can’t help myself sometimes when I read something really good. I guess it’s probably because growing up, I didn’t have a lot of books that I can relate to and love. And so now that I’m older and getting all these books, I just have to shout them out. I need more people to come into my circle so I can yell about these books. So, yeah, I’m so happy to be here and getting a chance to kind of talk about some of my favorites from 2022.

Jeff: And you’re gonna get to yell a lot about some really cool books.

We definitely want to say hello to you, rainbow romance reader. It is so great to have you here for one of two episodes that are gonna look back at the books of 2022. So, Will and I are gonna do our look back on 2022 a little bit later this month and talk about all the romance books that we really liked.

But I’m curious for you, before we kind of get into these books, what are some of the overall highlights of 2022 for you?

Julian: Oh, gosh. 2022 was a weird year for me. I think I’ve expressed that quite a few times on social media. So, some of the highlights for me was obviously my fourth book came out and that was amazing and the response to that was incredible. I didn’t know it would be so well received. They got three stars from trade reviews and that’s never happened to any of my books. So, that was a huge highlight for me. And then getting to go to a bunch of different festivals in person was really great, getting to meet young readers and talk to them and kind of share that experience was so rejuvenating for me. So, that was a highlight for me.

I think another highlight for me, though, for most of this year I looked at as a downside was writing, which was a struggle. But it’s also been kind of rewarding to do and to struggle like that again, to kind of remember that this is not easy, it’s never supposed to be easy, but that’s what makes it so rewarding at the end. So, that was a highlight for me is spending…I’ve spent almost the entire year drafting and revising one book. So, it has not been a usual year for me but I think that’s been good for me. It’s kind of been a good wake-up call both career-wise and also from a mental health side.

Jeff: Yeah, because there’s so much mental health kind of wrapped up in writing the book and like, “This is how it was for me before but this is how I’m getting through it now.” I’m right there with you, my 2022 was very much the same in that regard. I assume this was the 2024 book that you’re working on?

Julian: The way this is going, maybe a 2025 book. I don’t know.

Jeff: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for ’24 because I need a Julian Winters’ book at least once a year.

Julian: Hope so.

Jeff: And of course, we’re in the holiday season here, early December. I have questions I love to ask the guests to just get a little bit of insight into who they are. And I’m curious what’s a favorite holiday tradition that you’ve got?

Julian: That is a really great question because I feel like there are certain things that I always do, like I always watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I have to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at least a few times during the holiday season because it brings back so many childhood memories. But I think the biggest tradition for me that stands out is from when I was a little boy, I’ve always been in the kitchen with my mom during the holiday season either watching her cook or kind of being like a sous chef like, “Here, mom, here’s the greens and here’s the macaroni, here’s all these different ingredients you need.”

And now that I’m older and she’s taught me the recipes, I’m no longer just the guy standing on the side being the helper, she’s actually like, “Okay, and this is your assignment, and you make this and you make that.” And I think it’s one of my favorite traditions because I feel like the kitchen space is such a wonderful space to kind of be vulnerable, to have a laugh, to dance around, to really enjoy yourself with family or the ones that you love. And so for me, that’s a favorite holiday tradition is waking up after probably being up all night watching movies and, you know, going and helping my mom in the kitchen and just kind of, you know, dipping back into that nostalgia and remembering what it’s like to enjoy the people.

Jeff: That’s awesome that you graduated from sous chef to actually getting assigned stuff. It means you actually…you got trusted.

Julian: Yes, I learned. There are so much messed up recipes I did learn.

Jeff: Favorite dish.

Julian: Oh, hands down my mom’s macaroni and cheese. Hands down, what happened for every holiday, every, you know, birthday, every day that ends in the letter Y. I just love it.

Jeff: Once you get good macaroni and cheese, it’s hard to go back. That’s for sure.

Julian: Yes, definitely. What about you? What’s a tradition that you have to, you know, lean into every year?

Jeff: It’s definitely, I think, about what gets watched. Like if you track back to Thanksgiving, it’s got to be the parade. The Macy’s Parade has gotten to be viewed on NBC with all the Broadway stuff. And then if you go beyond that, a lot of it ties to like TV. “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” absolutely, must watch every single year. Certainly, Grinch is in there. All of the older Rankin/Bass, so, you know, “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” You know, those were like, very much my childhood, you know, on CBS watching those as they came out. But more recently, I’ve also had to…this is about 10 years of tradition now, the “Kim Possible” Christmas episode must be watched. And now they’re on Disney+, it’s so easy because it’s just right there, push the button whenever you want to see it.

Julian: Right. Yes, yes. That is one thing I am grateful for the streaming services, though it is getting pricey to own, you know, or to get those monthly and whatnot. I love that things like when the holidays come around, we no longer have to wait until, “Oh, 8:00 p.m. on, you know, ABC or something, that’s when I can finally watch it.” You can watch it anytime and it’s just so heartwarming.

Jeff: What about a favorite gift from when you were a kid?

Julian: Oh, gosh. That’s a tough question because I feel like I got a lot of great gifts as a kid. I do remember…I don’t know if it’s a favorite. I remember a favorite gift moment. Yeah, it was one Christmas, my parents were really…I have three other siblings, so my parents had to buy for four children and I remember the tight year financially for them. And so, they would always let us like, “Give us your Christmas list,” and that year, they said specifically, “You can only put three things on there.” And I remember putting…I don’t know what the other two items are. I remember I was huge into GI Joe and they came out with this, like, battle station or something, really, really wanted it. And I remember Christmas came around and they were giving out gifts and everyone got their gifts and I got…I think I got all three gifts and none of them were the GI Joe thing. And, you know, I was happy to have what I had but also I was young, so I cried. I cried when all the gifts were given out.

Jeff: Oh, no.

Julian: Yes, I just burst into tears because I really wanted that GI Joe thing. And then my dad surprised me and pulled it from like geek behind the tree, I mean, this is a big ol’ box and I remember opening it and then I was crying happily to having them.

I think that stands out for me as a big, like, gift moment because my parents went that extra mile to give me that one gift extra than what had already been given out and it’s just…I don’t know, it meant the world for me. So, I think that’s why I go so hard for them during the holiday season now when I buy gifts for them. It’s like I have to go over the top, best gift, I’m outdoing all the siblings kind of thing. But, yeah, that stands out for me as a great gift moment. What was your favorite gift?

Jeff: I have a moment like yours too. It was in Christmas of ’78. My mom and I moved from Michigan to Alabama to make me a little bit healthier because I was having a real hard time in the cold with asthma and whatnot. And, you know, money was tight, she started a new job. Christmas was like six months after, you know, we moved. Still getting into friends and new schools and all this stuff and I knew that money was tight and, you know, things were like…and Christmas was very utilitarian. It’s like some school supplies, I remember getting a bulletin board and some other, you know, utilitarian things and I was okay with that. It’s like I knew that was the deal.

And we were living in an apartment, and the balcony had a storage closet on it and that’s like where the tools were. She’s like, you know, “Go out, get the hammer, get the nails, we’ll hang up the bulletin board.” I’m like, “Okay,” out I go. And to that point, the curtains had been still closed in the morning. She had hung from, like, the rafters a giant stocking, the stocking was bigger than I was as like an 11-year-old. It was jammed, I had to crawl inside of it to get to the stuff that was in the foot. And she just…you know, in a season where it meant more because I knew, you know, we’d moved and all this stuff had gone down and it was a big year. You know, even at that age, I was like, “Oh, my God.” I still have that stocking somewhere.

Julian: Oh, my gosh, really?

Jeff: Yeah.

Julian: Wow.

Jeff: You can’t just throw out a six-foot stocking.

Julian: I mean, this is just…

Jeff: We had good parents.

Julian: Yes, we did. Yes, we did.

YA: Year in Review

Jeff: So, we’ve got a lot of books to talk about. We’ve each picked five of our favorites, and the order that we’re gonna give these out to everybody is in order of the author’s last name. So, we haven’t really ranked this as like, “This is my number one favorite and this is my…” Because that’s impossible. And I don’t know about you, I randomly set 5 for the talk we’re having, but I could have picked 10 really easily.

Julian: Yeah, this year was an incredible year for queer YA fiction. So, I struggled so hard to narrow it down to five and even these five, like you said, it could change any day of the week, it’s not necessarily like the end-all lists for us but I think we have a pretty good list.

Jeff: I’m curious of your perspective, and we won’t go off on this too long, but do you see like with all the book bans and everything, do you think the queer YA is going to end up pulled back in some way? Or is it going to keep hopefully getting put out there as the blueprint to the better world?

Julian: I don’t see it being pulled back necessarily in publishing acquiring queer YA fiction or queer books in general, I don’t see that happening. I do worry sometimes about the exposure that they’ll get and the bookshelf space, and not necessarily will, like, booksellers and librarians and whatnot try to stock it, but will there be such a fight that they’re not able to stock it? But I don’t see publishing slowing down from acquiring it. I know that they see the need for it, I know that they see the urgency, and I also know that they…you know, readers are loud, they are not quiet sitting in a corner, they’re very loud about what they want. And I think that…I mean, publishing runs off of what readers gonna buy, so they have to, you know, honor that. So, I don’t see publishing slowing down on that. It’s a matter of will it be as widely seen as it has been over the most recent years?

Jeff: Fingers crossed.

Julian: Yes.

Jeff: Discoverability is so important.

So, let’s help people maybe discover some books that we love his year. I’ll let you kick it off. What’s your first book?

This Wicked Fate by Kalynn Bayron

Julian: Oh, gosh. Okay, so my first book…it was hard to pick. I picked “This Wicked Fate” by Kalynn Bayron, and it was hard to pick it only because it’s the second book in a duology and I was like, “Oh, gosh, I don’t want you to just jump headfirst into the second book.” But I do hope that it makes you want to read the first book if you haven’t already picked it up or pick up both at the same time. I love it so much. It is a contemporary YA set around magic, set around mythology, which I love growing up, I was a huge fan of mythology. Give me all the stories about gods and magic and power and immortals and things like that. So, it’s a book about a teen black girl, her name is Briseis and she’s living in New York City with her moms.

And the series kind of focuses on the fact that she just one day realized that she can control plants. She can heal them, she can help them grow, there’s all different things she does with plants kind of like a Poison Ivy kind of way. And she mysteriously gets handed this land in upstate New York from a deceased aunt she’s never met her entire life, and they move to this very small town where weird, spooky things are happening and she’s not really sure why. And the house is old but it has an apothecary and there’s so many different things to it that she’s just trying to grasp and understand while also trying to conceal the fact that she can control plant life.

You know, her moms are very cautious, they don’t want her to expose that to the world and then have all these people interested in their lives, while Briseis is still trying to discover who she is and where she comes from. And the second book picks up after…I won’t spoil it too much, but some stuff goes down and her mother is kidnapped by a god and taken to the underworld and now Briseis is on this journey to do anything within her power to get her mother back. And it’s just such an amazing book about sisterhood and family and mythology and growing into the person that you want to become.

It also has this wonderful romance between Briseis and another character named Marie that I absolutely love because they have a little bit of like…it’s kind of like grumpy/sunshine kind of thing going on. It’s kind of like a push and pull a little bit, but they’re both super protective of each other, which, oh, my gosh, I love so much in a romance is to see, like, you’re still discovering all these things about this person but they will go to, like, the end of the world for you. So, that’s great. But I think what’s so wonderful about it is Kalynn writes such beautiful, lyrical stories that you’re immediately drawn into the world without feeling like you’ve, you know, stepped so far out of reality but it’s almost like you believe these things are truly happening in this moment.

And she writes such wonderful relatable characters who are funny, who are flawed, and to kind of go on these adventures that you just like…by the end of the book, you’re like, “At all costs, I have to protect this one character, nothing else bad can happen to them.” And I think that’s one of the great things about books is when you feel so attached to characters that they almost feel like a friend, they almost feel like a family member or someone that’s like you want everything great to happen to them. So, that’s my first book. I highly recommend that duology, but especially “This Wicked Fate” because Kalynn ties up all of these different mysteries that she left open in book one and ties them perfectly together in book two.

Jeff: You know, I don’t read a lot of fantasy, like fantasy and magic and stuff. But knowing this was on your list and hearing why it is a favorite, I’m like, “Okay, maybe I need a duology in my life sooner than later.” Because you hit so many of the things that I love in YA or just, you know, books in general, the family aspect, that protect at all costs, even if it’s a new relationship that you’re that invested that it is about protecting at all costs. So, yeah, you added to my TBR, which was inevitable anyway. But this one, I’m like, “Yeah, I might have to pick that up.” And it’s a gorgeous cover, too. I mean, the cover itself was like, “Oh, yeah.”

Julian: Amazing, so eye-catching. And like you, I’m not into fantasy, I don’t read a lot of it. But when it’s like a contemporary fantasy where I can feel like I’m still, you know, within my realm with things and I don’t feel like I have to be taught seven different languages to understand what’s happening, that’s this book. You just go in and you’re just like, “Oh, that makes sense, let’s keep going.”

Jeff: Yeah, I don’t want to have to spend…I don’t want the info dump of world-building to have to happen. I want to believe that maybe it’s over there, I just don’t know about it over here.

Julian: Right. Just a car ride away.

This Is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves

Jeff: So, for me, my first book, it’s probably the book that had the most impact on me overall for the year and it’s “This is Why They Hate Us” by Aaron Aceves. Oh, my gosh. I mean, it sounded simple. Enrique is going to have this summer between junior and senior year, work on himself, you know, either get over or move on from his friend that he’s got a crush on, who doesn’t know that he has a crush on him. So, it’s that whole unrequited thing. But also to explore his sexuality a little bit and, you know, figure out about all these guys that he’s, you know, could be interested in, maybe connect with them, maybe hook up, whatever, you know? And then self-improvement too, which I think is amazing for a junior in high school to think about, getting in better shape and reading some more books and knowing enough that he’s got mental health issues that he needs to work on.

Aaron did such an amazing job creating Enrique and making me care for him so early in the book. How he deals with that crush, oh, it just hurt my heart so many times. Not to mention some of the crazy stuff that goes down with those other guys. He hooks up with three or four guys through the course of it and some of it is like, “Eh,” and some of it is like you think you’re hooking up and then you end up and sort of commit a crime while you’re doing it. So, that was really kind of fun that he’s just kind of, you know, figuring out who he is and what he wants, which is, of course, what you’re supposed to do as a kid.

But it’s such a roller coaster between all these other people and his best friends, you know, and the one, of course, that he’s got the crush on as they’re all navigating all their stuff too, which is a whole other thing. So, I really loved how that came together in this really just lovely narrative. And Aaron did such an amazing job with Enrique’s self-realization of how he felt and how that got conveyed onto the page. Because I think when you’re working with that kind of POV, it can be really hard to commentary on yourself without seeming like it’s some, you know, weird thing that’s going on. So, I loved how he did that.

But then there’s also how Enrique takes in these books. He talks about…I think it’s like two, three, four classic bits of queer literature, things like, “Call Me by Your Name,” and a couple of other books. He breaks them down, he thinks about how those characters relate to him, he named the “every gay” character trope, which I thought was just brilliant. I’d like to sit down with Aaron sometime and talk books just in general because I think his brain works interestingly, or he did a bunch of research for this, I don’t quite know what.

But the thing that really stuck with me here was that for the people who heard my review a few weeks ago, they heard this a little bit too. There’s something about Enrique and his type of anxiety and his type of mental health that just made my teenage self all of a sudden feel so seen. You know, this is like…you know, I’m 54, my teenage years are a zillion years ago now. But reading this stuff and some of the things that Enrique went through, some of the actions that he took, it was like, “Hmm, I know exactly what that is.” And for us being decades apart, completely different backgrounds, it really hit me and it was like, you know, I think this is a book that will stick with me for a long while because of that. And I see myself in romance and some of the adult books, you know, on a routine basis, I could pick out parts of myself, but it doesn’t happen that often in YA, which is fine because I’m not the YA audience. But boy, when it did, it was just like, hmmmm, have that moment and sit with it for a bit.

Julian: That validation is so…I think it’s so important. I think it’s also so healing to know…because I feel like a lot of, you know, your teen years, you can almost feel like you’re broken, like no one else understands this, no one else gets it, and why am I not like everyone else and how they handle things. And so, I think that’s one of the great parts of being an adult and reading YA is kind of seeing that, “No, what you experienced was not only real but you weren’t alone and you’re not alone and there will be others after you who will feel the same way.” So, I love that.

I definitely love that the book…for me, I love a good book that is about self-exploration, but also self-empowerment and becoming the person that you are supposed to be or the person that you’re almost afraid to be but you know you need to go that way. I love books like that. And I also love books that are like multi-layered where it’s like, “This is not my only focus in life,” which, you know, it’s not just about him hooking up with guys and, you know, trying to, like, get over a crush, but it’s also about all these other things that he wants to explore about himself before, you know, senior year hits and then all of a sudden, it’s all about, “Okay, what’s your next step in life?”

Jeff: Yeah, so good. I’m looking forward to what he writes next because if I remember right, I think that was his YA debut.

Julian: Yeah, yeah, that’s his debut. Yeah.

All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown

Julian: The next book I’m sharing is the last book, which is books that I don’t typically read in YA but that’s what I did, I could not get enough of and that is “All That’s Left in the World” by Erik J. Brown. It’s a debut YA book that came out this year. And when I got asked to read it, I was like, “Me? Are you sure you want me to read this?” Because it is kind of like a post-apocalyptic book but it is a contemporary book, again, set in a world where this sort of pandemic has happened and, unfortunately, killed off, like, a good majority of the human population, which was a little too close to home to what we’ve been through in the past couple of years.

But, yeah, it’s this world that’s kind of just been devastated by death and loss and not being able to explain any of it. And these two boys, Andrew, who at the opening chapter is just like the wildest thing because it opens with him being trapped in a bear trap, his leg has been caught in a bear trap, and it’s because the world not only has dwindled in population, but also in trust in each other and whatnot, it’s kind of like a fight for yourself kind of thing. He’s caught in this bear trap and he’s found by another boy, Jamie, who kind of takes him in, both boys have lost their loved ones, they’ve lost their family, Jamie’s actually had to…it was just him and his mom and he actually had to watch his mother die from this pathogen that is, you know, kind of spread throughout the world.

So, he’s dealing with that, harboring that, and trying to, you know, navigate life alone by, you know, figure that out. And Andrew who for most of the book has these secrets that he just will not let out about, you know, what’s happened to him on his journey. It’s so fascinating to see these boys connect and, you know, kind of decide, “Okay, we’re going to venture off into the world together to get to this destination and figure things out.” And they’ve decided to…I want to say they’re in Pennsylvania…it’s somewhere in Pennsylvania, I think. And they are starting on this trek all the way down to Florida where they’ve heard that there is this plane that’s going to take off and take them away to this location where people, you know, are kind of gathering and rebuilding the world.

And again, totally not my…you know, a book that I would usually pick up but while reading it, I could not put it down. The only time I put it down was in the moments that felt so real and so emotional and so visceral that I was like, “I have to step away for a second,” because my emotions are like moving in 17 different directions and that is…like, this connection between the boys is so magnetic. It’s so magnetic. The chemistry is unbelievable. They’re funny, they’re snarky, they’re also disillusioned by what’s happened to the world, and they’re honestly lonely.

You know, they’ve been without people that they know and trust and love for so long that they kind of cling to each other and learn what it means to open up again and to trust people, and I love that so much. But there’s a lot of adventure happening in there, there’s a lot of moments of tension and, you know, “Oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen?” Because you’re entering this world of people who are kind of forming their own groups and forming their own, you know, families and whatnot, and these boys are just trying to get to a better place but on the way, they meet some very untrustworthy people. So, people who definitely mean them harm, some people who are building their own kind of like cults and stuff like that.

It’s just me and you against the world thing that I love so, so much, especially in a YA that kind of explores things like loss and grief and what it means to kind of rebuild your life. Just amazing. And again, while it has its dark moments, it is so ridiculously funny and romantic and there are so many cute moments where you’re just like, “Oh, my God, I forgot that I’m reading about a world that kind of feels like post-COVID.” That’s what I think readers will love about it is that there are so many great points where it’s just like it takes you out of the despair of the world and remind you that even in our darkest moments, there’s room for humor, there’s room for love, there’s room for affection, and there is room to be vulnerable.

Jeff: This book has been on my to-read list and I’ve actually got the ARC that I was never able to pick up because, am I gonna read a book about a virus? I don’t know. But at the same time, Stephen King’s “The Stand” is one of my all-time favorite books because of the story and everything that’s in that epic tome of a book.

Julian: Yeah. This one is not that as long.

Jeff: Thank goodness. So, hearing you talk about it, I’m like, “Okay, maybe I can find the moment.” So, maybe I could get this read in, you know, 2023.

Julian: Yeah, no, I definitely think…yeah, I do think like you have to be, you know, in a space that you’re comfortable with but I feel like that’s with any book that you pick up. When it feels like something that you’ve experienced in life, it’s super hard to kind of dive back into those emotions and whatnot because as humans, we’re so good at taking something, locking it away, and pretending we don’t see it. And so, yeah, I definitely think that it’s a space that you have to be in mentally to read it but I promise you, you will not regret picking up that book if only for the jokes that Erik puts in there. It’s just ridiculous. His mind is amazing.

Jeff: I do love a good joke dropped at an appropriate moment.

Julian: There are so many great ones, from dad jokes to, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you just said that in a book,” joke.

Icebreaker by A.L. Graziadei

Jeff: So, ’22 has been an amazing year for hockey books, and I actually have hockey books in my YA list and in my romance list that I’ll talk about in a couple of weeks. It was a hockey year, which I loved, of course. Next one up for me is “Icebreaker” by A.L. Graziadei, and also apparently mental health is a little theme in some of my books because two in five have mental health issues at the forefront. This book, it’s part romance, you’ve got enemies to friends to maybe probably something more going on between Mickey and Jaysen. They’re both vying for the top position of their school’s hockey team.

And I like that it’s not enemy and opposition from the other team, it’s like competition right here inside our team, to where at times, you weren’t clear they were on the same team. Because they both wanted the number one spot, they’re both trying to get the number one draft pick to move into the pros, and they sometimes forget that they’re trying to win games for the school at the same time. And who doesn’t get caught up in that competitive streak not just against the other team, but at times, whether it’s your teammate or, you know, school orchestra vying for first chair, or whatever that is, I loved how it was explored here.

Team dynamics versus individual dynamics and that whole thing, I just really loved how they got into that. But this book also, again, got into depression and anxiety and the pressure on these athletes. Mickey in particular is like a third-generation of hockey player at the school, so there’s all the pressure from his parents and, you know, the legacy of the family to do well. So, it was interesting to see how that played out. And for Jaysen, it’s just about doing well because that’s his future that he sees to excel and to get into the NHL. And I really loved in this book in particular that Jaysen’s black.

Hockey is still such a very white sport, you know, overwhelmingly so. I think the last stats I saw, it was like 80% between players and staff, it’s white. And to show here a young black player at the top of his game vying for that next level? I love that for any…you know, whether it’s a young black person or just a young person of color, to see that right there that here’s a guy playing hockey and, you know, finding a little bit of love too on the team along the way, I love that. And the friend group here, there was a lot of polarization as these two were kind of screwing up the team for the benefit of themselves but there were some really good tight friends here.

There was somebody that Mickey could talk to, I believe it was his roommate, who also battled his own depression, and to be able to have those honest conversations that teens don’t always know how to have with each other, I thought that was really nice. It ticked so many boxes for me between the romance and the hockey and just that depth of character that was brought to the page, I just loved it. And the audiobook too just…there were some moments, the emotional tone that the narrator found was just like, I needed to stop for a second and just have a moment to myself because it was so good.

Julian: Yeah, whenever I can find a great audiobook to go with a book I love, it just heightens it to a whole other level. And I appreciate that so…narrators, I love you and appreciate you so much because you can make me fall in love with something deeper than I thought I ever could. So, I love that. I, like you, my shelves are stocked with any kind of like team sport with added romance books. From the young adult side to the adult side, I love, love books like that. I love a good in-team rivals to friends to something more kind of feel, I love that vibe so much. Because like you said, when they’re on opposite teams…like it’s still good and that’s still fun.

But when you’re on the same team, it’s like you’re constantly in each other space, in each other spaces, there’s no escaping that, there’s no, “Oh, I’ll see this person at the next, you know, rivalry game,” or something. It’s constantly there, and that heightens the tension and the emotion so much, and I love that. But I also love especially when it comes to sports books when they focus on mental health, because like you said, that’s not something that’s…not only just from a team perspective, but it’s not something discussed at all. Like, these athletes are expected to perform at a certain level at all times.

It’s never with the thought of, you know, how are they going to be at the end of this or how they’re going to be during this at the beginning of this? It’s all about, “We need to win, this needs to happen,” and that’s it. And so, when something explores mental health and the pressure of being, like you said, a third-generation player or what impact it has being a black player in a sport that’s predominantly white, I think that’s super important especially in YA to show readers these things exist and they happen but there is hope and there are great things still ahead for you while dealing with these situations. So, that’s awesome. I’ve been meaning to read “Icebreakers,” so I’m so glad that you had it on your list because it confirms from the vibe I got from the cover, which is, “Julian, you must own this.”

Jeff: Yeah, just go pick it up. You know, I listened to the audiobook, and then it’s like, “Okay, I just need this on my shelf now.” So, I went out and bought the hardback because it had to be there alongside, you know, best books. So, I’m glad I got to give you one that you had not read.

Julian: Yes. I think you have actually a couple more, we’ll see.

Gay Club! by Simon James Green

Julian: My next one was “Gay Club!” by Simon James Green.

Jeff: Oh, my gosh, that cover is glittery. I’ve never seen it in person. That is amazing.

Julian: It is glittery. It is beautiful. It is everything. And it’s no surprise I am a huge Simon James Green fan. Ever since “Noah Can’t Even” came out, I have been singing his praises, and every book since it has been great. This took it to like five levels above what he’s written before. It is outstanding, it is hilarious as you would expect from the opening page. I was cracking up. Simon James Green is amazing at voice and he’s amazing at telling jokes at the right time. But what made this book so incredible, it is about a young queer boy by the name of Barney, he is in the race or he’s running for president of their gay club, their LGBTQ+ society. And his opponent is someone who used to be in his friend group, her name is Bronte, they haven’t really gotten along, they’re definitely like the super rivals to each other.

You know, they both want to be, like, head of the class kind of thing, every teacher’s favorite, all these great things. And so, they’ve always been competitive with each other. And so, they have, like, this rivalry going on and it’s almost election time. And Barney kind of gets tricked into…it’s just gonna be like a members-only vote, but their queer club, it’s like five members deep. And so, Bronte tricks him into opening it up to the entire school population and having them vote on who should be president of this club. Things just get just downright nasty after that. It is like the fun political…think like Reese Witherspoon’s movie “Election,” like, think that, like, it is just downright….these two are butting heads competing for this spot as president.

And it’s causing kind of like this…not only just friction for them but friction within the friend group that Barney has because now they’re so determined to get him the president that they go to extreme lengths, including a fake dating storyline, including campaign slogans, and just like these the wildest things happening, you know, kind of like slinging mud thing. But the real twist is when another student decides to enter in the race and he is everybody’s favorite, like, the most popular kid in school kind of thing, like, the good-looking one but also, like, everybody knows him to be straight and whatnot. So, he’s entered the race now because he’s like, “Well, gay club, since you say that it’s something that you’re accepting of everyone, it should be open to everyone.”

And so, now it’s this three-person race to, like, try to…like, Bronte and Barney are trying to take down the popular guy and he’s just like, “I just want everyone to be happy, I just want everyone to be accepting,” kind of thing, which is like all kinds of hijinks and fun. But I think the biggest thing that hit me with this book is the way that Simon James Green talks about the quiet part out loud, and that he delves so beautifully and so wonderfully into the fact that within the queer community, though we don’t always want to acknowledge it, there’s so much gatekeeping, there’s so much, “Are you enough to be a part of this?” And that happens where Barney, Bronte, and their friends are kind of like, “Can we let this person into our group?” You know? And it’s so much about them, you know, kind of saying, “Do you hit these marks? Do you qualify here?”

It’s this checklist, it’s these different things that we do as a queer community where we say, “You know, okay, you want to be part of this, what’s your identity? What kind of things do you like? What kind of things do you not like?” kind of thing that we do. I hate it so much. And it’s such an important book to me, especially considering what’s happened recently with major public-facing figures, including Kit Connor from “Heartstopper,” where it’s like we’re constantly as a community saying, “You have to show us this proof that you belong, otherwise, we won’t accept you.” When we’ve spent so much of our lives being not accepted for who we are and, you know, once we’ve, you know, shown who we are, it’s like, “No, you can’t belong, no, we don’t want you here,” kind of thing.

And Simon James Green spent a good portion of a novel dissecting that and looking at the ways that we’re doing it to our own community, we’re doing it to our own people, and saying to them, you know, “If you don’t have these certain things, you can’t come in.” And it shouldn’t be that. It should be, “You don’t have to come out to come in,” kind of thing and that’s something…that’s a quote from the book, that’s a sign that they have outside the club and whatnot. And it hits and, like, every portion of the book is just a reminder that we have to do better, especially, you know, looking at teens about forcing people to meet these standards in order to be a part of a community that should be loving because we’ve been told we’re unlovable.

Jeff: This is a book that had not been on my radar, I don’t know how I missed it because, you know, Simon James Green, I should be aware of what he’s doing. I’m gonna have to pick this up. I love books that get into the competitive side of like running for school office, whether it’s like, you know, president of the class or for a club or, you know, it might be homecoming king or queen. And so many great YA books recently have kind of, you know, delved into that, either as a side point or a primary storytelling aspect, but I love what you hit on there about proving who you are to be in.

As you and I are talking, the Kit Connor thing is, I don’t even think a week old yet, might be two weeks old, but it’s very new. And his tweet about it was just devastating. And I agreed, it’s like if you’re…I think you missed the point of the show all of you who made me do this. But we do, we demand so much of actors and musicians and authors to prove the credential to write this story, play this part, you know, whatever it is. And yet, we’re protective, for the most part of, when we individually choose to come out. It’s like we don’t want our public figures to have that same safety that we might as…not in the public eye people. I love that he’s taking that on here. So, this is gonna have to be one that I read and I might have to get the cover because it’s sparkly.

Julian: It’s sparkly and lovely, and like I said, a hilarious book.

Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson

Jeff: So, I’m gonna swing us back to the serious. You know, you’ve had a plague.

Julian: Yes.

Jeff: I’m going to deal with a dome falling over a city. “Survive the Dome,” Kosoko Jackson. “Survive the Dome” is something that, like, if I heard about this on the news as an event tonight, I’d be like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know we had that tech but I’m also not surprised.” So, what we’ve got here is an aspiring photojournalist and a high school student, he’s eager to bolster his college resume and the documents he’s turning over because he wants to get into Columbia. And so, he’s headed into downtown Baltimore to attend and cover a protest on police brutality, you know, very similar to the things that we’ve seen play out especially summer of 2020 and into 2021, all over the news. Not long after he arrives and, you know, get into the protest area, the dome falls over the city over the downtown area. No one can leave, internet, cell phones, none of that works anymore.

And the whole idea is that the government has done this as a way to control the citizens and to kind of force them to, you know, disperse and go home, deal with that. Jamal, of course, doesn’t live in Baltimore. He’s got nowhere to go home to, you know, get off the streets as you’re supposed to. But a teenage hacker kind of picks him up, takes him home, causes a whole bunch of drama because here’s this outsider suddenly with other people in the safe house, so that was a whole thing. But the hacker and this young woman who has been in the military, they all eventually come together and, you know, team up to assist and essentially not only survive being inside the dome but also bring the dome down.

This book played into exactly what I love about smart teenagers who can, you know, take on situations, make a plan, have a vision on how to make this end, and at the same time, they are kids, they make mistakes, they don’t think at all through because they don’t have, you know, the experience that their adult counterparts may have. They take moments to be kids because sometimes, you know, just the emotional capacity to deal with everything that’s happening around you, you know, they need that moment to be a kid, maybe to want a parent or, you know, an adult to be like, “Can somebody just come fix this because this shouldn’t be my problem to deal with?”

And Kosoko, the way he wrote Jamal, so smart and goes through so many emotions, especially as he occasionally is separated from the people he’s traveling with because either they’re executing a plan and they all have to be separated or at times, things just don’t go to plan and they are separated that leads back to himself. And Kosoko, a lot like Aaron, has those right ways to have the teenagers tell us how they feel without it being weird that it’s in, you know, that first-person kind of POV at the same time. Jamal, Marco, and Catherine, oh, I just love them so, so much. And I hope…I’ve told Kosoko this, I was like, “Can we get some sequels? Some short story, like, what they do next?” I would be so into that. But yeah, you know?

And I love how this is just a little bit in the future. You know, it could be tomorrow, it could be next month, it could be five years down the line, it may never happen, but you could see it, you know, you could just lay this over any one of the protests that we’ve seen and have a dome put over it and then you’ve kind of got the story, you know, right there. We’ve got enough in our heads collectively as a society who may read this book to see all of that and to pick the story up from there. I was blown away by it. It’s, I think, the most serious book on my list but also just did so many great things and I just…I loved it.

Julian: One that I have been meaning to pick up because Kosoko’s debut YA is, like, so amazing, rips my heart out but in the best kind of ways and it’s such a great romance in that one, so I definitely want to pick up “Survive the Dome.” But I do love that kind of banding together of like the really smart teens to kind of like…especially in a world where adults so often look down on teens and don’t think they’re capable of doing anything. I love when they come together and show otherwise and look, all the while, making, like you said, the youthful mistakes that you’re going to make because you don’t have the experience or you don’t know all there is to know about a certain thing, I do love that. But I’m all for, like, teens banding together and overthrowing any kind of governmental situation. All the time, love those.

Jeff: We’re there for all those books.

Julian: All those books, give them all to me. I love that so much.

Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram

My next one is…I love this author, first of all, but also, it is very much in my wheelhouse as someone who spent a lot of time in fanfiction. So, this is very much, like, perfect for me, which is “Kiss & Tell” by Adib Khorram, which is about a boy band, something I know a little bit about. So, it is the story of Hunter, who is in…he’s in a boy band, kind of think like One Direction kind of like boy band. They’re from Canada, so they’re not from London or not from England, they are from Canada. And so, they’re huge and they’re big and they’re everything, and right now they’re going on this, like, super big worlds tour, and Hunter is the out gay member of the group. So, he’s kind of like this token member in a way that the media, like, looks at him in this way, each member, like with all boy bands, kind of plays their role in a way.

And so, Hunter is out and they’re going on tour. And he has recently broken up with his boyfriend who decides in a revenge kind of way to leak their texts to the internet, to Twitter and whatnot. And let’s just say the texts are not…they are rather racy but also like super…like, you know, it’s also very vulnerable kind of thing that’s exposed through the text and whatnot, it’s a moment that should not have been shared out there in the world. And so, Hunter now has to deal with this kind of fallout of how…not only the media but like the online perception of him is because they often treat him as, “Oh, he’s the nice, cute gay one,” and that is like how they look at him. But all of a sudden, they realize, “Oh, my gosh, you know, he’s had not just a boyfriend but they’ve actually had sex and different things and whatnot.”

And so, now all of a sudden, this perception is skewed from him being this cookie cutter wonderful, like, cinnamon roll to like, “Oh, no, he’s the worst thing ever,” just because he’s human and he’s a teenager and he’s exploring who he is. And so, Hunter’s label is on a mission to clean up his image because they love a good clean gay. And so, you know, they try to change his image and try to change, you know, things that he does and they set him up on this fake relationship with a member of another band, think like the Jonas Brothers, they’re Iranian-American trio of boys, and they set them up with the drummer in the band.

They say, “Okay, you two, we’re setting you up and we’re putting you in these perfect situations where you can get photographed by paparazzi and look like the wonderful, cute, happy boys you are,” and not boys, you know, who are just growing into themselves and sometimes don’t have good days and also, sometimes, you know, have messy situations that happen. And so, it’s a very, you know, coming of age kind of story where Hunter has to discover…he’s had a voice and he knows how to use it, but he’s learning to use it in ways that are impactful, and he doesn’t want to be the gay that, you know, the label wants him to be, he wants to be authentic and he really wants to be genuine.

And through this fake relationship, he also learns what healthy relationships look like and, you know, what are the things that he wants for himself and what are the things that he wants for other people in his life. And it’s also…Adib does a brilliant job of kind of deconstructing the way that media treats public-facing queer people and the way that, you know, it’s an attack on who they are if they slip up out of this realm of perfectness or this realm of cleanliness or this realm of, you know, being soft and gentle and…you know? And I love that so much because I see it a lot in fandoms and whatnot where people would just love to attach the word cinnamon roll to boys and stuff like that when sometimes there’s icy, sometimes their exterior is rough, sometimes they are angry, sometimes they don’t want to be these things that we attach to them.

But that’s how, you know, sometimes fandoms work and he also explores how toxic that can be and whatnot. So, it has a beautiful romance, wonderful, I love every second of that. But it also is a wonderful exploration of the way that we treat queer people in public-facing situations and the things that we should think about when we have the opportunity to speak up, when we have an opportunity to use our voice and use our platform to be helpful. So, yeah, a lot of great things happen in the book, but honestly, the romance is like out here.

Jeff: So, I have a confession to make and I hope that we’re still friends after I say this.

Julian: Oh, no.

Jeff: I have yet to read Adib Khorram.

Julian: Oh, my gosh.

Jeff: I feel like not having read the “Darius” books is like a huge gap in my queer YA reading which I need to fix so badly.

He’s still here, folks. He didn’t hang up on me, so that’s a good sign.

Julian: I will not.

Jeff: But yeah. In all fairness to my queer YA reading, I only just read “Aristotle and Dante” earlier this year.

Julian: No.

Jeff: I know, right?

Julian: All right, I’m hanging up now.

Jeff: I’m a bad YA author and host and reviewer.

Julian: No.

Jeff: But this book sounds amazing and it’s been on my radar because of its subject matter because, yeah, boy bands, I’m right there with you. I feel like it’s been a boyband year.

Julian: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff: Because, you know, “If This Gets Out,” you know, Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich came out this year. Alice Oseman just has “I Was Born for This” out very recently. I’ve read both of those, they were incredible taking on their little points of the boyband. And do you think those work as well as they do because it’s either the team, almost team sport, that you’ve got all these people working together to do their music and so you get that whole dynamic going forward? Is that part of what draws to that kind of like a collection of people?

Julian: I do think, you know, that music…it is like musical team sport kind of thing and I do love that. I do think it is also people kind of love it because you have this group that’s doing, like, this great thing but you also have these different personalities where you can find yourself or find, you know, the ones that you like and you kind of cling to that and you have your favorites and all that good stuff. But it’s also great to see how these different personalities function together and synchronize and make things happen. So, I think that plays into it as well. I also think that it plays into the fact that sometimes those situations don’t work out and sometimes, you know, can you kind of do see these lines drawn and whatnot and I think that’s just the reality of like different friend groups and whatnot.

You feel that in your friend groups and stuff, you know, you feel like sometimes some friends are closer than other friends but you all still work together. And so, I think that can be what draws people to it but also, they’re fun. They’re just fun. Like, versus with sports where you can get really locked into a team and if they lose, like, your whole emotional state collapses, with boy bands or with music groups in general, you just sing their songs and you have fun and you go to the concert and you go home and you talk about it online. You just don’t win or lose. I mean, there’s also obviously a win but there’s no losing with that kind of thing. So, maybe that’s why it’s the funner version of a team sport.

Jeff: The funner version of a team sport, I like that.

Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper

Jeff: So, my next one is from the summer, “Small Town Pride” by Phil Stamper.

Julian: Phil.

Jeff: It’s a little younger than YA because it was designed as a middle-grade book but the resonance in here, especially these days is so strong. Jake’s an eighth grader, he came out to his parents who went way overboard and decided to plant a huge Pride flag in their front yard. Now, granted, they already had the giant flagpole that they use, you know, through the year, but up went the giant Pride flag on the giant flagpole and suddenly, everybody in town knows exactly what’s going on here. So, while Jake is happy for the support of his parents, he’s not real sure about how everyone else now knows about it. And in this year, like I said, you know, we’ve seen so many attacks on queer youth and it just continues.

This book really tackled it head-on. And, you know, the lead time that Phil, you know, had to have written this book more than a year ago, the fact that it dropped in this Pride Month and when it did, I think was just the perfect moment to put it out into the world. Because Jake’s got to deal with the conservatives in town who don’t want the flag in his front yard but also don’t want to throw the town’s first Pride celebration at all. They kind of want to sweep the whole thing away, you know, “That’s not happening, these people don’t live here,” kind of thing. But then there’s also this super sweet crush.

Oh, my gosh, this little crush between Jake and the mayor’s son, and of course, the mayor is not a friend to this cause at all. It was such a nice little sweet thing that ran through there and Jake’s having to figure out how to deal with Brett who’s also not out and, you know, how that presents certain dynamics in their relationship to deal with as well. One of this book’s lines, actually it’s a few lines has really stuck with me since I read it and it’s a piece of Jake’s thoughts at some point in the book where he says, “Hateful people are everywhere. I know that. But couldn’t they just shut up for a minute? Why did they always have to have the last say when it comes to celebrating people who are different than them?”

Like, I just applauded when I read that in the book because it’s like, “Yes, that thing right there. Why must we deal with this?” It’s such a perfect book, I have to imagine it’s gonna give middle-grade young adult readers such a powerful read on how they as one person can impact a community, which thankfully, I mean, we’ve seen play out a few times over the course of this year with individual students and groups of students. A well-timed book, well written. I love Jake, I’m sure Jake is gonna grow up and have an awesome life. You know, I’d like to see him in a YA book later because I always want a sequel. Phil, can we have that maybe? Maybe?

Julian: I would love to see more like that, I would love to see more, like, middle grade, the same author transitioning that character into a YA space, like giving us more of the story. That would be so awesome to me.

Jeff: Fingers crossed, we can get that one day. But yeah, I totally loved this book and it made my year and kind of made my Pride month because, you know, so much was happening around Pride this year that that injection of hope and coming out on the other side in a good spot just made me happy.

Julian: Phil is such an amazing person and writes incredible stories, but I’m so glad that Phil has a middle grade out there. I’m so glad it is an upper middle grade also because we desperately need books that are closer to…like, bridging that gap from going from middle grade to YA. We desperately need books where there’s younger characters than a YA so that, you know, those readers can kind of feel and see themselves. I’m loving that before, on my middle-grade shelf, there was only like a couple of queer books on it, and now it’s getting to the point where I’m having to push all the other books off so I can have like a whole shelf for queer YA and I love that Phil is a part of that and I love that this story is part of it too. I will never not stand the books that Phil’s writing because I think he’s doing a fantastic job.

Jeff: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that he certainly had the year because of “Golden Boys” too. Like, Will took “Golden Boys” away from me to read and he does love it. And he doesn’t read YA often but that book worked so much for him.

Julian: And the next one comes out…oh, gosh, it’s next year, right? I think it’s next year.

Jeff: Yeah, early next year is the sequel to that. Yeah.

Julian: Yes, yes. I love that cover with the different graduation caps on it, it’s just perfect. Awesome.

Jeff: Yes. All right, it’s time for your last one.

Kings of B’more by R. Eric Thomas

Julian: Oh, gosh. Okay, so I’m glad this is my last one because this book was a book that young Julian needed, this is a book that current Julian needed, this is a book that when I saw the cover, I was like, “Oh yeah, I can’t wait, this is super great.” And you know when you get like super excited about a book and then, you know, it hits the spot but, you know, you walk away? Okay, this one went above and beyond what I was expecting of it and it is “Kings of B’More” by R. Eric Thomas and it is….first of all, it is like a modern-day “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where two friends have this bucket list of things that they have to get done in one single day because one of them is moving away. Harrison is very much like the planner and the organizer and, “I’m going to make this happen,” because his best friend Linus is moving away because his dad got a job in a different city.

And so, they’re going to be apart and they haven’t been apart since…I want to say it was like middle school or something like that when their friendship first developed online and whatnot and then they become friends in real life. So, Harrison plans this fantastic day where they’re going to do these out of the world things, they’re gonna visit like this great historic museum, black historic Museum, we’re gonna go to their first Pride together, they’re going to ride in a convertible somehow someway even though they’re both don’t have any license and can’t drive. This is like these wonderful moments that happen throughout it that just really touched my heart so much. They’re both queer black boys living in Baltimore.

And what I love about this book…I love a good romance. I like stan all day long for romances, give it to me in any way, shape, or form. This book is so much about the platonic relationship between these two queer black boys, which is what I needed. I needed to…because a lot of growing up and even now, it’s so much more…you don’t see that in people of color spaces where you have this tight-knit group of people who all, you know, have the same ethnicity and have grown up in the same kind of places. And with this book, it is so much about their friendship and it’s about the ways that they genuinely love each other like, “I want to do anything for you, I’m going to make the sacrifice.”

Linus’s father has this app on his phone where he tracks him and everywhere he goes, he’s like, “Do not lie to me, make sure you’re in this one spot.” And it’s so wonderful the length that Harrison goes through to make sure that Linus’s phone travels around to these different spots his father thinks he’s gonna be in while they’re off doing something else. I guess there’s just so much love between them and I ached so bad by the end where they have to say their goodbyes because it’s just like you felt this love flowing through the pages through the entire book and you just want the best for them.

And yeah, it’s so amazing but it’s also super funny. The thing that they get into, I was just like, “Oh, my goodness,” but also, I’m pretty sure I did that too as a teen and I’m pretty sure it did not mean the way it was supposed to. But it’s so much fun to see that while also exploring things like going to your first Pride and knowing what it’s like to be amongst your people and feeling that spirit and feeling that moment. And then this…yeah, I don’t know, it’s just so much fun but also, those really poignant moments hit so hard that by the end, I was just like I wanted to just thank Eric for the rest of my life for writing something about two queer black boys that resonated so deeply with me.

Jeff: This is one that is in the house. I’ve got the hardback in the house because I’m like, “Oh, I’m gonna buy that because that sounds amazing.” And then it’s a matter of like too many books and too little time.

Julian: Yeah, right. Exactly.

Jeff: Because, I mean, just the Ferris Bueller-like thing and trying to do all this stuff in the day because it’s the day that you have, I mean, that speaks to me because I’m in the Ferris Bueller generation when that came out in the first place. So, yeah, now I of course have to move it up the list with your rave review there because it sounds like it will hit so many great just emotional beats for me watching these two go through these things. The fact that you just said that somebody is making sure that that phone travels where it needs to be, that is next-level friendship right there.

Julian: Yes, yes, hiring somebody to make sure the phone travels to these destinations so his father thinks he’s in one place. Yeah.

Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters

Jeff: Okay, we’ve arrived to the part of this show that…other than me saying, you know, that I have not read “Darius the Great” yet, that might be a little bit awkward because now I have to rave about your book from this year, “Right Where I Left You,” by Julian Winters as if I needed to say that again. This book, oh, it’s just…every time you put a new book out, it just brings it…like, somehow you find the next level in your writing each time. And Isaac and Diego…and here, we don’t have one last day, but we’ve got one last summer before it’s off to college for Isaac and a gap year for Diego. I mean, ooooh. And then you wrecked it for them so early. One of the big centerpieces to their summer is going to a comic book kind of gaming convention, kind of a Comic-Con kind of scenario. People from their favorite comic book are gonna be there. Diego wants to get into gaming, he wants to see his gaming mentor.

And then Isaac gets distracted by somebody he’s had a crush on and ends up not getting the tickets and by the time he refocuses not that long later, they’re gone. And so, he’s wrecked one of the centerpieces to the summer. And that just kind of kicks off like all these different dynamics between Isaac and Diego kind of figuring themselves out a little bit more over the summer and kind of an unrequited crush-y thing going on between them but then, you know, there’s Davi over here. The way you set up this kind of triangle between them and it seemed so organic that they’re all three just kind of doing this thing, I don’t feel like I see that kind of thing in YA a lot, and yet, I feel like it must be something that people do go through where we’re all kind of like into each other. It was just kind of brilliant.

And as usual, you give us beautifully supportive parents but here I think for the first time…I was trying to think back on your other books, you gave us somebody with the brother who is a family villain to a degree, although misunderstood and how the brotherly connection reformed itself, the way that you did that, it was not something I saw coming and as it plays itself out, I’m like, “Oh, that is so nice.” Like, it, for me, took the romance into a backseat for a second because here’s this moment of understanding and healing and fixing the family and everything, it was…yeah. And then, of course, you write large casts also so amazingly well. There’s all these friends, I mean, you labeled them this time and called them The Six.

Julian: I had to.

Jeff: But all of these people in like the wider orbit of these guys and it all works and they are not hesitant to call Isaac out when he’s being stupid. It just really ticked so many boxes and it was so just poignant how it all came together at the end for these characters as they do, in fact, begin that next chapter, that is what all teenagers go through in that 17, 18-year-old timeframe. So, yeah, thank you for that book.

I’m not gonna make you say anything coming off of that.

Julian: I’m just gonna say thank you because like we talked about at the top of this, there were so many amazing queer YA books this year. And to know that I was one on your list when there are so many to choose from means a lot to me, especially with this book, because it is like my little love letter to fandom and geekdom and that kind of community and whatnot. And yeah, it’s just amazing to know you who have such amazing taste in books in general would put that on your list. So, that means a lot.

Jeff: And I swear to the listeners that it’s not just because Julian’s here that that is on the list. It has been pegged to the list even before I knew I was doing this because it was just…it was everything this spring to read that because I know I’m gonna settle into a nice, warm, good, cozy place, you may, like, hurt my emotions while I’m getting there but it’s gonna end up good and I’m gonna like the ride.


Jeff: So, as we wrap up, I want to remind everybody that this episode’s transcript, as always, is brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read our conversation for yourself, you can just head on over to the show notes page for this episode at And don’t forget the show notes page has links to everything we’ve talked about in this episode, so all these books we talked about, you can go right over there and find the links to go get them.

Julian, thank you so much for taking the chance of being my co-host this week. I absolutely loved our discussion, all this good YA, and it was so much fun.

Julian: Thank you so much. This is seriously an honor. This whole podcast is kind of like…it helped, like, kind of springboard my career early on with “Running With Lions.” To be a part of this is almost like a full-circle moment. I don’t think that’s full circle yet because I feel like me and you both have so much more to go. But it is a moment that I feel so honored to be a part of to do this with you, to talk about books that we love, but also to be a part of such an amazing part of the book community which is what you do.

Jeff: Well, thank you so much for that. That means a lot too because…yeah, and to talk to you about books this in-depth and the quick emails back and forth, love it.

Julian: Yes.

Jeff: So, that’s gonna do it for now. Coming up next in Episode 409, author E.M. Lindsey is going to be here. Among the things we’ll talk about is E.M.’s new “Loose Lips Sink Ships” series that just out and we’ll talk about “Madly Ever After,” which is a series that’s starting up in January.

On behalf of Will and myself and Julian, we want to thank all of you for listening and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories that we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.

Will: Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at Original theme music by Daryl Banner.