Blaine Bowers is an out, gay, high school junior at Wicker West in Chicago. He has great friends and family support, and is an up-and-coming muralist, brightening some of the dingier areas of local businesses in this “gentrifying” neighborhood. Blaine’s been dating It-Boy Joey Oliver for a year, even though they are a bit of an odd match. Blaine is an ordinary artist from a modest family and Joey’s folks are very wealthy with stratospheric expectations for Joey. He might be the president of the senior class now, but he aspires to one day be POTUS. And, that’s why Joey cruelly dumps Blaine while they’re out at a posh restaurant “celebrating” their anniversary.
Blaine is devastated. He thought he and Joey were in love, and Blaine is further insulted that Joey doesn’t find him capable of being a “serious” partner, not with his humble family and muralist side gig. It’s so crushing, but at the same time, Blaine is fixated on winning Joey back. He really did love him, and is sure that Joey will come around, if only Blaine can prove he’s a serious guy. So, no more murals, and well, why not run for senior class president, too! Because that would catch Joey’s attention big time. Unfortunately, Blaine has no experience in student government at all, and his friends aren’t too keen on the ‘win the election to win back Joey,’ plan. Mostly, because they think Joey is a grade A-jerk and Blaine should move on. But, they aren’t going to let him down either, so Blaine finds himself with a small but thoughtful team ready to help him have a good showing. Except, well, his toughest competition, Zach, has not only has won the last three elections for class president…he’s also Joey’s new boyfriend.
This is a really sweet YA read that features election shenanigans, family drama, a dash of romance, and fresh new ideas for shared governance. I really enjoyed Blaine, who is a little hapless, a little hopeless, and constantly endearing. His quest to win back Joey forces him to abandon his murals, and his morals a little, causing him to act selfish in ways he has never been. This endeavor is a difficult balance for Blaine, and it ends up costing him some intimacy with his dear Aunt Starr, who’s like a surrogate parent thanks to his own parents working overtime all the time. His platform of mental health initiatives are ideal, but not his idea—and will require him to give up a lot more of his own time to manage. Blaine makes a close connection with Danny Nguyen, a student council rep and new campaign helper. Their budding friendship seems to hint at an attraction Blaine didn’t anticipate. The stress and drama of the election wear Blaine down, so much so that he starts to rethink his desire to win back Joey after all, mostly because this experience has helped Blaine recognize that Joey’s worldview is a bit toxic.
I really liked the curveballs with the plot, especially the election. Even though the stage was set for chicanery, the payoff was unique and interesting. Zach, despite being a rival, is really a good guy, and props for him being an honest politician. I loved Trish, Blaine’s bestie and campaign chair. She was fearless and the real brains behind the campaign. There is so much to celebrate within this story, with strong friendships, hints of romance, and being true to one’s values all themes at the center of the narrative. Trish, her girlfriend Camilla, and Aunt Starr are all rock solid at helping Blaine see his true worth, and urging him to make the right decisions for the right reasons. And, he does. He eventually makes full amends, bringing the whole story full circle with hope, gratitude, and style. I liked Danny’s role, too, and how Zach became a friend in the end. It’s a sweet and endearing read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys uplifting YA stories.