Monday, October 17, 2016

Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey

Seventeen-year-old Connor works his butt off to maintain the golden-boy persona he’s created. He has the grades, the extracurriculars, the athletics, and a part-time job at his dad’s shop… every detail specifically chosen to ensure the college scholarships he needs to get the hell out of the Podunk town where he lives. The last thing he needs is an unexpected attraction to Graham, an eyeliner-wearing soccer phenom from St. Louis, who makes him question his goals and his sexuality. Sure, he’s noticed good-looking boys before—that doesn’t have to mean anything, right?—but he’s got a girlfriend. There’s no room on the agenda for hooking up with Graham, but the heart doesn’t always follow the rules.

As he and Graham grow close, other aspects of Connor’s life fall apart. Family pressure, bad luck, and rumors threaten to derail his carefully laid plans. Suddenly the future he’s fighting for doesn’t seem quite as alluring, especially if he has to deny who he really is to achieve it.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 Angsty, Young Adult Stars

J. Leigh Bailey is a new-to-me author, and I could seriously fan-girl right now. I do plan on checking out the author's past works ASAP. I love the innocence of the young adult genre, and I believe this book would be a comfort to both children who are contemplating coming out, and to their parents to get their child's perspective.

Connor is his rural mid-western town's Golden Boy, with his sights set on playing baseball in college as a way to get out of his hometown. He's dating the couch's daughter, has a 4.0, a hard-working family, and is the oldest of five siblings. His entire life implodes when, while working out in the weight room for practice, his eye catches the school's new eyeliner-wearing soccer star.

Connor's characterization was accurate and realistic, how he is so hyper-focused on his future, trying to make his father proud, he barely notices the present. The way of life makes it possible for Connor to live in denial about his sexuality, when he never realized in the first place.

Graham is a complex character to Connor's open book. Graham has a tragic past, with its bits and pieces of information doled out at a steady pace to keep a mystery surrounding it. Graham is what Connor is not – confident in knowing who he is and owning it, even if no one else accepts it. But Graham is patient when it comes to friendship, as long as he's treated with respect when it comes to more than friendship.

I don't want to give the plot away, but there are ups and downs and a ton of delicious angst in this page-turning, young adult read. After reading the book in one sitting, I was satisfied with the ending, but wanted more from other characters in the book's universe, as I wish to know more via other's narration on our couple. Sadly, however, I do believe this is a standalone. But my voracious need for more is a sure sign on how much I enjoyed the story.

Recommended to fans of MM Romance and Young Adult MM.

Young Adult age range: 14+ Kissing. Bullying/bigotry. Past violence (not shown)

Wow. This is such a wonderful story. Connor and Graham are both fantastic characters. The golden boy and the beautiful, leather-clad outsider are right out of one of the best Eighties high school movies but the m/m romance is a very 21st century twist on a classic teen romance.

Full of angst and seemingly insurmountable problems (both real and perceived), Connor and Graham’s story feels real and honest. The central conflict is Connor coming to terms with his sexuality and Graham rebuilding his life after a terrible experience. Most of this conflict is internal, but Connor’s fears are realistically debilitating at times and his resulting behaviour is self-destructive. Connor isn’t always easy to like, but the author makes him feel real. I enjoyed his friendships and his relationship with his family. I loved the way the adults surprised both boys at times and the way the author refrained from unnecessary conflict between the generations.

Graham is brave and fabulous. As a star athlete, he challenges stereotypes and pushes boundaries. And while it is easier to like Graham in this story, the author makes several interesting observations about Graham’s wealth and privilege allowing him more opportunities than are possible for blue collar, small town Connor.

As a young adult story, this book is light on sex and the romance is sweet rather than steamy. But I loved the connection between these two boys and I loved the classic high school romance themes in this book. If you loved Footloose or The Breakfast Club, you will enjoy this modern classic.

This book was freaking fabulous! I am beside myself with how much I enjoyed it. My only complaint about Guyliner is that I believe calling it a new adult romance is limiting its potential audience. I found it to be more of a young adult, coming of age story and really hope that it receives enough word-of-mouth marketing (i.e., by stating it my review and by telling my friends), that it finds its way into the hands of teens who may be struggling with their sexuality. Yes, there are some rather harsh realities in the book when it comes to the hate that some teens (and adults) face simply because of their sexual identity, but I still feel it’s an extremely appropriate read for teens of all sexual orientations.

Connor is a hometown boy hoping to escape his small town on both his educational and athletic merits. The oldest of five and in his junior year in high school, he’s been dubbed the Golden Boy by his peers because he works hard at school and baseball, is involved in extracurricular activities, treats his girlfriend with respect, works part-time, babysits his siblings, and the list continues. Yet a rainy day brings a glimpse of bright blue eyes accentuated by guyliner, and Connor soon discovers chinks in his carefully constructed facade – a wall so well fortified that it allowed Connor to ignore that niggle in his brain that there might be more to him than he wanted to admit. So as Connor begins to question who he is, all while being pressured by his dad to focus on school and baseball, Graham is adjusting to a new school, a new soccer team, and a new town, just hoping for a fresh start as he continues to recover from a horrific hate-fueled attack. But as paths collide (literally) and the boys are thrust into a situation where they are working together and getting to know one another, they each experience a huge shift in their respective worlds. As their friendship begins to develop, Connor finds himself asking harder and harder questions and is afraid of what the answers will be and how they will affect his family.

There is so much that I loved about this book. Coming from a small town, I understand Connor’s fear over coming out. Even if the majority of his classmates are accepting of his new “identity,” prejudices among adults can mean that his classmates who see him as a target to be taunted and attacked are provided opportunities to do so as there is little fear of reprisal. Fortunately, Graham understood this and tried his best not to push Connor into coming out, but based on his own past, Graham’s refusal to be Connor’s dirty little secret was understandable also. I liked how, once Connor came out to his girlfriend, Allyson didn’t get angry or end their friendship, instead, she admitted that she may have been using him a bit too because having a boyfriend who wasn’t part octopus and wasn’t pressuring her to have sex, made dating and high school easier. While Connor’s best friend, Marc, reacted well to the news as well, Bailey didn’t whitewash Connor’s coming out by painting everyone with an accepting paintbrush – not at all, there were the requisite bigoted jerks whose personal self-worth seemed to be measured by their ability to put someone else down. While I disliked the setup for the scene – and I mean the events, not the writing – I was glad when Connor was finally able to express his frustrations with his father and clear the air. Of course, the truly best part of Guyliner was watching the relationship develop between Connor and Graham, especially when Connor makes his grand gesture towards the end. Guyliner was an absolutely delightful read and I cannot wait to read more of Bailey’s books.

Age Recommendation: 13 and up for kissing, bullying, and recounting of hate crime.

J. LEIGH BAILEY is an office drone by day and romance author by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything… but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships, and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation, or paranormal affiliation, deserves a happy ending.

She wrote her first story at seven which was, unbeknownst to her at the time, a charming piece of fanfiction in which Superman battled (and defeated, of course) the nefarious X Luther. (She was quite put out to be told later that the character’s name was supposed to be Lex.) Her second masterpiece should have been a bestseller, but the action-packed tale of rescuing her little brother from an alligator attack in the marshes of Florida collected dust for years under the bed instead of gaining critical acclaim.

Now she writes about boys traversing the crazy world of love, relationships, and acceptance.

Connect with J. Leigh

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey to read and review.

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