Falling in love was the easy part for Hunter and Vanilla…staying together’s the challenge.
“You two have been married / since the seventh grade,” says their in-your-face queer classmate Clown. Hunter and Vanilla progressed slowly from being friends to being a couple, and now, at 17, everyone thinks of the two white boys as inseparable. Clown and another aggressively gay classmate regularly throw sexually charged, all-male parties for The Gang. The boys don’t usually attend though Hunter seems to want to. He’s ready to take their relationship beyond kissing and petting; Vanilla is not. Merrell’s debut novel for young adults explores the rocky relationship of the duo in minute emotional detail from both boys’ perspectives as well as from the outside through Clown’s eyes—which gives readers a more nuanced view of gender-fluid Clown as well. Different typefaces indicate the point-of-view character for each free-verse poem as they remember the early days of their relationship and coming out and as they fumble through first romance and new sexual-identity issues. The verse is at times beautiful, touching, and though-provoking but at other times feels merely like prose broken into short lines. It presents a mature and frank (though not explicit) picture of a relationship struggling to survive.
Tighter construction might have added more punch to the poetry, but teens will identify with the quest for identity and ground in that most groundless of times. (Verse fiction. 14-18)