cover image Idlewild


James Frankie Thomas. Overlook, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4197-6914-6

In Thomas’s intoxicating debut, two estranged friends look back on their high school years at a Manhattan Quaker school in the early 2000s. As a junior at Idlewild, Nell Rifkin develops an intense, nonsexual friendship with her crush Fay Vasquez-Rabinowitz. The girls become the “F&N unit” aka “The Invert Society” and write stories about classmates Theo and Christopher, whom they imagine to be gay, and discuss queer readings of Othello and The Scarlet Letter. Nell and Fay appear in a school production of Othello set in the antebellum South, which elicits accusations of racism against their beloved drama teacher, Wanda, who is subsequently fired. Many of the students rally in support of Wanda, including Fay, and Nell’s ambivalence about Wanda drives a wedge between the two friends. More cracks in the F&N unit are caused by the stress and uncertainty of college applications, and Fay’s exploration of her sexuality and gender, as she crushes on Theo and wishes she were a gay boy. Thomas astutely captures his characters’ anxieties as the drama unfolds, and his choice to give them the benefit of hindsight allows for a nuanced and sensitive portrayal of Fay’s identity formation. It’s easy to grow obsessed with this auspicious novel. Agent: Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, Francis Golden Literary. (Sept.)