Growing up in Pinellas Park, Florida in the 80s has its challenges. Josh Livingstone and Simon LePage are best friends. They both have some mild home-life issues, with money being the biggest. Josh’s loving parents are together, but his mom is a seamstress and his dad is a plumber. Income is a bit off-and-on. The family had been doing pretty well, but there was a period where Josh’s dad was injured and couldn’t work, so things got a little dicey. Simon’s parents are divorced, with his mom raising him and his three siblings.
Josh and Simon have noticed that the biggest reasons even mediocre kids at their high school seem to be popular are flashy clothes or cars. They make a pact at the end of sophomore year to get summer jobs and earn enough money to buy the clothes and gear that will get them noticed in a good way, for a change. Not only do they improve their wardrobes, they even chip in for a decent used car in the fall of junior year. Josh has filled out a lot, working as a dishwasher and eating the fab food at a swanky hotel all summer, while Simon got infatuated with an older married woman at his summer job. Josh is pretty sure he’s gay, but he’s never had the chance to test his theory. Until he encounters his first crush from junior high, Robert Buchholz, one night. Robert is still as buff and fit as Josh remembers, and Josh is flattered that someone as wealthy and attractive as Robert could be interested in hanging out with him.
As the year progresses, Josh and Simon learn a lot about how to navigate the murky waters of popularity in their high school. Josh is definitely sure that people would not look kindly on his attraction to boys—and especially not his budding relationship with Robert. Their connection seems so rock solid to Josh, but it’s shaken by a huge betrayal. And, Simon’s got big troubles, too, but it turns out that sharing those problems with one another helps further cement their friendship.
This is a near-historical, YA coming of age story about two lower-middle class teen boys that want to break into the upper echelon of their high school society. Josh tells this story as if narrating a journal of his life. He’s candid and funny, endearing in his honesty. The travails of seeking popularity force Josh into situations he doesn’t relish, but they also bring him unexpected connections and eventual joy. While Robert abuses Josh’s trust, a popular schoolmate, Ryan, is more than trusting with his own secret desires. I loved the sweetness, and how accepting Josh’s mom is with his sexuality. It’s interesting how forthcoming both Josh and Simon are to their mothers.
Naturally, life isn’t idyllic, and Josh’s hard-won popularity is assailed by the rumor mill. While life is not ideal for Josh, he’s not fully ostracized. I would say it’s a satisfying ending, one that is happy for both Josh and Simon considering expectations for that era. This is definitely recommend for readers who enjoy YA stories, and especially those with nostalgia for 80s life and cultural references.