Anna Gracia’s YA novel Boys I Know brings a feminist take on the classic theme of young women defining themselves outside of the male gaze. The novel follows Taiwanese American high school senior June Chu, whose relationship with her mother is strained by high expectations, and who navigates complex dynamics with different boys as she attempts to figure out her place in the world. Gracia’s debut comes out July 26 from Peachtree Teen, Peachtree’s new YA imprint, which is publishing its first titles this summer.
The first inklings of Boys I Know were pulled from an article Gracia wrote during the run-up to the 2016 election. “There was a lot of talk about Planned Parenthood—that was a really big topic—and should we be providing them any funds [or not],” Gracia said. “I had written this article talking about how Planned Parenthood and access to contraceptives, in general, are important for teenage girls in particular, and the impact it can have on their lives. It didn’t get picked up anywhere and I thought, well, maybe I'll turn this into a book.”
Gracia began her first draft that summer and continued writing, and in 2019 Ashley Hearn at Peachtree Teen acquired the title, with Kiana Nguyen at the Donald Maass Agency selling world rights.
Boys I Know appears to be a summer standout, garnering starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. It is both an Indies Introduce selection and a July/August Indie Pick, and has been named a Best New YA Book of 2022 by both Paste and Popsugar.
“I think that teenage girls really get a bad rap,” Gracia said when asked about her protagonist’s desire to find a partner. In Boys I Know, Gracia doesn’t shy away from teenage desire and its potential results, treating June’s need for validation with nuance, an element she wrote about in depth for SLJ. “Society a lot of times thinks of things that girls are interested in as frivolous and their emotions as overly dramatic. I wanted to show that it's incredibly important.”
Gracia highlights the complex struggles of teenage girlhood with timely scenarios including June’s trip to a Planned Parenthood and her experience acquiring a Plan B pill. “I feel like a lot of adults kind of want to dance around the subject [of contraceptives],” Gracia said. “There are tons of people who use this [Plan B] and somehow there’s still this stigma associated with it. I didn’t want to make it this huge crisis.”
And in Boys I Know, it’s not. The novel encompasses all the hallmarks of a coming-of-age story as June grows less preoccupied with the opinions of her love interests and her family, and instead focuses on nurturing her own passions and cementing her standards through a more assured sense of self.
“It's really about girl empowerment,” Gracia said. “Your issues are your issues, and they do shape you no matter how dumb or frivolous other people think they are. They’re incredibly important in determining what you grew up to be, how you see yourself, and what decisions you make for yourself.”
Boys I Know by Anna Gracia. Peachtree Teen, $17.99 July 26 ISBN 978-1-6826-3371-7