- my rating:4 stars
- published by: Duet Books
- genres: contemporary, lgbt+, sports
- content warnings: alcohol use, bullying, islamophobia, body shaming, body insecurity, one scene that contained the use of homophobic language
- Read this if you like: The Foxhole Court, FENCE
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
This was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases! I love gay sports books and this one seemed right up my alley. It has a large cast, which I love, and a m/m romance and is set on a soccer camp. AKA THE PERFECT BOOK. And I ended up enjoying this so much! While it wasn’t the perfect five star book, the romance was so adorable and the soccer camp setting was immensely fun. I smiled the whole way through reading this because it was so sweet. The friendship group was so well written too and the characters really did read as teenage boys, including all the annoyingness that comes with teenage boys.
I really enjoyed reading about these characters so much. Sebastian, the main character, was so sweet so of course I instantly loved him. I always love the soft ones. Emir Shah, his love interest, was an interesting character to unpack because it’s hard to know what he’s thinking at the beginning of this but I enjoyed reading his character development. Willie and Mason, Sebastians best friends, were probably the weaker of the main characters. I really liked Willie but thought he needed more page time, and I didn’t like Mason much. I felt like his backstory and character arc needed more work because how his story ended didn’t really satisfy me.
But I did really like all the scenes of the characters interacting with each other and all the jokes and banter. It felt very authentically teen, and definitely provided all those “sports team/found family” dynamics I live for.
However, I do wish that Grey, the only girl in the book, had been written better. She spends most the time getting picked on by the older boys and it would have been nice to see her stand up for herself more. I also didn’t like her ‘romance’ with one of the boys much.
A portion of this book revolves around Sebastian’s insecurity with his body and his struggle to overcome how he was bullied for his weight. These is also discussions about islamophobia and homophobia, and how sports can be an unsafe space for queer teenagers.
I really liked that these themes were explored. While it was still really fluffy and cute, it was also brought a bit more depth and nuance to the story. I definitely think the incorporation of these themes helped to really flesh out the plot and keep the story a little more compelling. I also think Julian Winters managed to balance his themes with the romance so well and the bully/body shame portion especially was really well done.
I LOVED how overwhelmingly queer this book was! As any gay knows, we travel in packs, so seeing so many characters with different sexualities portrayed in one book as opposed t the usual tokenistic representation was really refreshing. The main character Sebastian is bisexual, his love interest Emir is gay and a Pakistani-American, Willie is gay, Hunter who is on the team is also gay and black. I liked the bisexual rep in this one but don’t have much to say on it because Sebastian being itself wasn’t really discussed much.
I loved that there was a focus on the fact that the coach wanted the boys to feel safe to express their sexuality, and how Julian Winters made everything all so okay. To see so many well written and happy queer characters in one book was a breath of fresh air and I loved it. Julian Winters is also an ownvoices author.
Overall, this is a really cute and mostly fluffy book. I had a lot of fun reading it. The romance especially was adorable, reading about Sebastian’s crush on Emir was so cute and I loved all the parts of them hanging out and falling in love.
I had a few issues, like the treatment of Grey and that some of the plot lines could have been wrapped up a bit better but this was super sweet and if you’re looking for a easy and light m/m romance this is perfect!
until next time!