A closeted teen galvanizes his small town’s first-ever Pride parade.
Months after Ryan saved Jack from drowning, Jack wonders if they’re really friends at all. Meanwhile, Jack takes swimming lessons from Cody, a Thompson Mills “triple threat” (“misogynistic, homophobic, and relatively racist”). Things on the friendship front start to look up when gorgeous, city boy Benjamin shows up in art class. As luck would have it, Benjamin is gay, too. But, unlike Jack, Benjamin has no intention of hiding it. After a tragic accident sends Benjamin to the hospital, Jack decides to show Thompson Mills—a town that’s “so small that being different usually means you’re flying solo”—exactly what community looks like. This companion novel to Shaw’s Caterpillars Can’t Swim (2017) shifts the first-person narrative focus to Jack instead of Ryan. Though there are two biracial leads (Jack is Guatemalan/white, Benjamin is Chinese/white), their descriptions name and focus on their nonwhite ancestry in a way that only serves to emphasize whiteness as the default. Ryan has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. This story of rural Pride is at times inspirational, but it is flattened by Shaw’s perpetuation of queer stereotypes (e.g., the camp gay mentor). Nonetheless, the intersectional characters make this “out of the closet, into the fire” tale a slight scratch above the rest.
Unlikely to draw much of a crowd—but it could be meaningful to the readers who need it most. (Fiction. 13-18)