Connor Fitzpatrick is the oldest child of five in his family. He’s got straight A’s and is the starting catcher on his all-state baseball team. It’s his junior season and he’s really angling for a scholarship—if he doesn’t mess up, as his father continually reminds him. Messing up is something Connor’s dad did seventeen years ago, when he got Connor’s mother pregnant—with Connor—and gave up his college scholarship to start a family. He runs an auto repair shop, where Connor works on weekends for pocket money. They have just enough to make ends meet, but no more. Connor’s entire focus is to escape Green Valley, the small Indiana town he’s known his entire life. He doesn’t want to find the new kid, an obviously gay boy they call “Guyliner,” attractive. He really, really doesn’t. Connor’s got a girlfriend after all, even if they’ve been dating for months and never even kissed.
Graham is starting his life over again. He was the victim of a horrific hate crime at the hands of his ex-boyfriend’s family and barely survived. (I thought this would tie back to Nobody’s Hero the first book I’d read from this author because the locale and hate crime were similar, but the circumstances and names were slightly altered.) Now, Graham’s not going to hide anything anymore, and he’s willing to take the abuse if it means being his true self. His armor is artfully applied eyeliner and snarky t-shirts with gay quips. Oh, and he’s a phenomenal soccer goalie. The kind scouts come out to watch and recruit.
Connor and Graham get wrangled into a project together—after a locker room run-in with some bullies set on making Graham’s life miserable. Each Saturday they spend a few hours sorting old sports equipment. They develop a friendship—and mutual hidden crushes—but Connor resists anything else, first because he’s not sure he’s actually gay, and secondly, Graham’s family is obviously wealthy—and it unsettles Connor.
A weekend trip with Graham and his family to Chicago for a Cubs game and a night in Boystown cements the answer to Connor’s doubts: he’s all-the-way gay. And he really likes Graham, a lot. But he’s not able to come out. What college program would recruit an out gay catcher? What if his parents disown him? Connor thinks Graham couldn’t understand, because he’s rich and talented, and he’ll be out of Green Valley as soon as his diploma is granted, right? Except, Connor learns about the deep scars, both physical and emotional, that Graham will always carry for his previously hidden relationship. Powerful moments in Chi-Town.
Connor’s life changes for the worse in the next few weeks, however, and that brings a whole lot of trouble for both Connor and Graham. From bullies, to rumors, to certain problems with Connor’s baseball prospects, they go through a very tumultuous month. Graham won’t date Connor on the down-low, no matter how much he wants to have a boyfriend, but he will be a friend and a rock through these trying moments. He’s been there after all, and he survived it.
Guyliner is a sweet and tumultuous contemporary YA coming out romance. The pace of the book is excellent. There are real emotional moments, from Connor’s insecurity about his family’s status and his place within that family—it’s tough to always believe you were the mistake that ruined your dad’s life, and it’s shaped Connor into a “people pleaser.” It was really awesome to see Connor grow past that. Graham is such a great guy, and he’s great for Connor. He’s not anxious to move forward quickly, and only on these terms: open and out. It’s for his protection, and, like anyone, he deserves that level of respect. He’s been a “dirty secret” and he’ll never sign up for that again.
The honest conversations Connor has with his family are just the right amount of tender and tough, and help to resolve a lot of his personal insecurity, in addition to coming out. Connor’s best friend and girlfriend are really good supports—and strong allies for Connor when he really needs them. The romance between Connor and Graham is not the main focus of the book, and there’s no steam. A little kissing on the page—that’s it. It’s a mainstream-type coming out book, and the “passion” felt in line with other books I’ve read. There’s a grand gesture here that’s a little shocking and totally sweet, and moves these two from rumor to confirmation in a way that was respectful. These two wonderfully rich and layered characters find an unexpectedly happy ending, and a boyfriend, when they least expected to, and that was enchanting to experience.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.