The Boys of Summer – Steve Berman, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it now direct from Bold Strokes Books.

My introduction to gay YA fiction was Steve Berman’s masterful novel Vintage, a deft combination of love story and ghost story. So I had high expectations of The Boys of Summer, a gay YA anthology edited by Berman. The book does not disappoint. These stories are sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, and always lively. I’ve read anthologies in which a real clunker suddenly turns up—the kind that makes you ask, “How did that one get in here?” But there are no clunkers in this book; they all fit perfectly.

In “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing” by Ann Zeddies, we follow the fortunes of a young man who is stuck taking a vacation trip with…oh, no…his parents. But when it seems all is lost, fate rescues him from a loveless summer.

“Get Brenda Foxworthy” by Shawn Syms follows three friends who live on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and their bizarre plot to get revenge on a female bully. At the end of the story the protagonist finds romance in an unexpected place.

In “Cave Canem” by Dia Pannes, an animal rescue worker with a homophobic stepfather finds adventure with a new coworker who is right out of his “bad boy” fantasies.

L. Lark’s “Breakwater in the Summer Dark” is a richly atmospheric story about two boys at a summer camp in the Poconos, a spooky place with “its bottomless lakes and its nightmarish forests, and the monsters that whip and churn beneath the water.”

“Brass,” by Marguerite Croft & Christopher Reynaga, is a story about a marching band trumpeter who has a hard crush on a tuba player. Will they eventually make sweet music together? Hmm….

A bonfire at an abandoned house in rural Ohio lights up “Summer’s Last Stand” by Aimee Payne, a story about loss and change and new beginnings.

Steve Berman brings to the collection a welcome note of diversity—and magic realism—with his story “Most Likely,” about a lonely Puerto Rican boy and his misbehaving high school yearbook.

“Leap” by ‘Nathan Burgoine is a vacation story about rituals—old and new—and the possibility of finding something surprising in a familiar place.

Sam Cameron’s “Bark if You Like Boys” is about a bookstore clerk and dog fancier on Florida’s Fisher Key who befriends two boys from a troubled family.

In the lyrically titled “Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy,” Alex Jeffers, ever the polymath, weaves Turkish mythology into a shipboard tale about two boys from different worlds.

I’m not giving anything away by revealing that these stories tend to conclude on a positive note. They were written to entertain, and so they do. Yet these tales also take place in a recognizable world. Most of these teens are unsure of themselves. Some come from broken homes, or have cruel siblings or parents, or are bullied at school. We understand the analogy in “Cave Canem” when Dia Pannes writes: “The dogs that aren’t lucky don’t love everyone. They know better. Life has taught them that they have to be watchful and wary. They figure out fast who they can trust, and who they need to avoid.”

But the good news is that the heroes of these stories are rewarded for having the temerity to pursue their dreams. More than lust, it is hope that pushes them forward. Gay teens will love The Boys of Summer because it speaks to their experience, but I recommend it to everyone. We all need to learn as much as we can about the gay teen experience, and how hope can keep young bodies and souls intact.

 

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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