Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publication date: October 17, 2016
Length: 273 pages
Reviewed by Erin
Seventeen-year-old Connor works his butt off to maintain the golden-boy persona he’s created. He has the grades, the extracurriculars, the athletics, and a part-time job at his dad’s shop… every detail specifically chosen to ensure the college scholarships he needs to get the hell out of the Podunk town where he lives. The last thing he needs is an unexpected attraction to Graham, an eyeliner-wearing soccer phenom from St. Louis, who makes him question his goals and his sexuality. Sure, he’s noticed good-looking boys before—that doesn’t have to mean anything, right?—but he’s got a girlfriend. There’s no room on the agenda for hooking up with Graham, but the heart doesn’t always follow the rules.
As he and Graham grow close, other aspects of Connor’s life fall apart. Family pressure, bad luck, and rumors threaten to derail his carefully laid plans. Suddenly the future he’s fighting for doesn’t seem quite as alluring, especially if he has to deny who he really is to achieve it.
I have had Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey on my wish list for months now! I saw it on a 2016 Books with LGBT themes list on GR and immediately marked it as a must read, so to say I was excited to get this book is an understatement. I am so happy to tell you all that I enjoyed it every bit as much as I hoped I would! Connor and Graham's story was sweet and tender and emotional, a bit sad in some parts, and all fantastic. I just adore coming of age stories so much and Guyliner is one of the reasons why. All the self-discovery and acceptance done by both characters was endearing and heartfelt.
Graham Parker is new to town and boy does he ever turn Connor Fitzpatrick's world upside down in a hurry. Eyeliner wearing, sarcastic t-shirt wearing, soccer phenom Graham is everything Connor wishes for, but is too afraid to want. Graham and his family have moved to town after a brutal attack on Graham leaves him beaten and bruised. But not broken. Because Graham is boldly out of the closet, almost daringly so. He doesn't hide who he is and challenges anyone to making him afraid to be who he is. This conflict, the inner struggles Connor goes through as he tries to accept himself was heartbreaking and felt so real. I loved the way Bailey let this play out. It's not so full of angst that you want to cry, but it's done in such a way that feels authentic and genuine. The Golden Boy and the Bad Boy isn't anything we haven't seen before but Graham and Connor are so endearing you can't help but root for these guys to figure out how to be together. It isn't easy; Connor's battle to be who he wants in the face of immense pressure (both imagined and real) is something that all teenagers go through, straight, gay, or in between.
There needs to be more YA books like this out in the world. The issues dealt with aren't trite and clichéd—they're real. I loved how Connor's family was so accepting, even if it took a bit of time. I liked how J. Leigh Bailey addressed that "coming out" doesn't only affect the one doing it, but the parents, siblings, and friends of the person, too. Especially in a small town where your dad owns an auto shop and the family's income might be affected by people not quite so accepting or worrying about how your brothers and sisters will be treated by their friends. This is a real struggle, it's a real worry and shouldn't be easily dismissed. It's easy to read a book and go "just come out already, what are you waiting for" but worrying about the consequences of doing so is a genuine and often very difficult process. I really liked how this isn't an overly heavy book. Although there are some hard topics discussed, there is such a feeling of hope and joy that is at play—even during the hard times. This book isn't preachy or in your face, it's the coming of age story of two boys just trying to figure out who they are and how to be happy.
The secondary characters—best friend Marc, girlfriend Allyson, sister Becca, Connor's mom and even his dad, Graham's parents—all these people added so much to the story. It was so NICE to see supportive families and friends portrayed in a book like this. It doesn't happen often enough. There are lots of things at play in Guyliner—a middle income family struggling to provide a college education on a limited budget, bullying, the pressure on teenagers to perform to a high standard in order to catch a break, family dynamics, and more that make this a book you can't miss. Great characters, a tightly woven plot with nice pacing, sharp writing, and a very satisfying HFN that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy with a smile on your face. Don't miss this one, people!
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