Today I am so pleased to welcome Julian Winters to Joyfully Jay. Julian has come to talk to us about his upcoming release, Running With Lions (which I’m reviewing later this week). Please join me in giving him a big welcome!


June is upon us, which means one thing—summer is a blink away. Long days of sunshine, glasses of lemonade or iced tea, gentle breezes carrying the scent of salty ocean or tropical flowers or sweet, ripe fruit. All the heavy layers of winter boxed away in a closet. Fresh cut grass, a sea of blue above, trees extending their emerald arms to shade you… there’s only one thing missing:

A good, sweet book about two boys figuring out who they are and falling in love.

One of my goals for writing my debut novel, Running With Lions, was to ensure the story captured all those lasting feelings summer provides. To give the reader an escape into the heat, the clumsiness, the sweat, and the glory of finding yourself.

Oh… and that little thing called first love.

On this journey, I was able to read many, many great young adult novels that feature three key elements: sweetness, vulnerability, and humor. Those Feel Good books. And with summer tapping us on the shoulder, why not create a list of some of my favorites!

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

It’s all there in the title—confident, openly gay student Paul meets eclectic, soft Noah. They like each other. But there’s a slew of disasters keeping them apart: best friend troubles, the hilarious Infinite Darlene who is the school’s resident homecoming queen and star quarterback, kisses from a confused ex-boyfriend, a closeted best friend looking for a ray of hope, and a school filled with the most memorable characters ever in a YA novel.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Two lonely boys find each other in the summer. They teach each other how to swim, to laugh, to love the beauty in words, to fight without fists, and to love. Their adventures—and deep affection for each other as friends—spans across states and into the next summer. It’s not always easy, but the journey is gorgeously comforting and sweetly honest.

Fan Art by Sarah Tregay

Falling in love with your best friend is pure and terrible. Leave it up to Jamie to make it adorable and funny too. In his senor year, weeks before prom, Jamie is juggling secrets, coming out, and trying not to fall too hard for best friend Mason. Enter the art girls who want nothing but to see Mason and Jamie be a couple. Adorkable good times all around!

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

A school of magic. An unsolved murder mystery. Visiting ghosts. Grumpy vampires. And two boys who’ve hated each other for years unexpectedly helping—and falling for—each other. Enemies-to-lovers fans rejoice! This book is a wild adventure with enough pining and snark to keep you through the darker moments.

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

You will laugh out loud from page one until the end! Alek, a sweet, perfect student, loves his quirky Armenian family, but he wants to find himself too. Enter Ethan, the wise-cracking, Rufus Wainwright loving, skateboarder who likes shaking Alek up. Secret outings to New York and a refreshing look at Alek’s world heighten the wonder that is this book.

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

Geeks! Sci-Fi conventions! Best friend pining! And a road trip in an RV! Brandon, who is neat and tidy and geektastic, hides his crush on Abel, the out-and-proud guy who Brandon never thinks he’s good enough for. So many moments of are-they-finally-about-to and embarrassing goodness that can’t be missed.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

You’ve watched Love, Simon, right? You cried a little? Laughed a lot? Follow Simon Spier, who’s avoiding the classmate blackmailing him, trying not to fall over in his high school’s production of Oliver, and has a major crush on an online classmate that only goes by the name Blue. But the possibility of being outed, his friendships splintering, and being head-over-heels for a guy behind e-mails is as cute as it is hard for Simon. And every second of this book is worth it.

Whatever.: or how junior year became totally f$@cked by S.J. Goslee

Fall in love with stoner/slacker Mike Tate as he navigates class elections, homecoming, cheerleaders, his girlfriend suddenly breaking up with him, and weird behaviors from his mortal enemy, Wallace. Oh, and Mike might suddenly be questioning his sexuality. Leave it to his garage bandmates, his thoughtful mom, a trip to the ER, and unexpected kisses to help Mike figure it all out. Or not.

The Rules of Ever After by Killian B. Brewer

There are no rules in fairy tales. Princesses can save themselves! Queens can pick who they want to marry! And a sweet prince can fall in love with an insomniac price from another kingdom. Fair warning: non-stop laughter and magic and epic “kiss him already!” moments abound.

Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green

Noah Grimes is a walking disaster. But it’s not all his fault. His mum is a Beyoncé impersonator, his gran is planning the world’s worst retirement home breakout, his peers loves to tease him, and his best mate, Harry, just kissed him. Harry, who is Noah’s lifeline through everything. Who loves Noah despite him being clumsy and oblivious and unfiltered and obsessed with mysteries like Murder, She Wrote and Cluedo. Secondhand embarrassment aplenty in this cute, wildly funny, and genius novel.


Running With LionsBloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.


Julian WintersJulian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.