Vanilla

Billy Merrell. Push, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-338-10092-1
Boyfriends Hunter and Vanilla have known, and loved, each other for years, but their relationship is showing stress fractures in high school: Hunter is ready (beyond ready) to have sex, and Vanilla is very much not. Writing in free verse, first-time novelist Merrell (coauthor of The Full Spectrum) alternates between the boys’ voices, painting their longings and differing views in sharp relief. “I knew this would happen/ eventually,” Vanilla acknowledges. “One of us—him specifically—/ would change/ and we’d both know why—/ specifically me.” Additional pressure comes in the form of “the Gang,” a group of out, sex-focused guys at school; Merrell incorporates poems from their ringleader, genderfluid Clown, as Vanilla and Hunter’s relationship becomes further strained. “At least Clown/ sees me as sexual,/ can imagine me/ on top of someone,” thinks Hunter. Keeping track of who’s narrating takes some work once three voices get involved (the speakers aren’t labeled, though the fonts are differentiated), but it’s well worth it as Merrell poignantly shows these queer teens reckoning with individual fears and desires, as well as powerful external pressures. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kate McKean, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/11/2017
Release date: 10/10/2017
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