Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez
Dear Mr. Sanchez,
I picked up an advanced copy of your book at the San Diego Convention Center after a speaking engagement. I've been meaning to read a GLBT YA and this cover caught my eye. I've heard your name before and I liked the multicultural look of the characters. The blurb on the ARC begins with: "Sergio is bisexual." That was all I needed to know before I slipped the book into my bag. Only later did I read the full description and realize that there are two relationships featured in the story, one between boys and another between girls.
It looks like three boys and one girl on the cover because Kimiko, one of the four main characters, has a very masculine style. She dresses like a boy, sits like a boy, and likes girls like a boy. Although she's not "out" with her parents, it's obvious to most people that she's a lesbian. Her mother turns a blind eye on Kimiko's sexuality, refusing to see the truth.
Kimiko's best friend, Sergio, is bisexual. He's had a difficult breakup with a girlfriend and is now looking for a casual relationship with a guy. When he meets Lance, they hit it off well, except for one major glitch. Lance doesn't understand how Sergio can be attracted to both sexes.
Lance is gay, and he likes Sergio a lot, but he's confused about this bisexuality thing. His only experience with a boy didn't end well. Lance's first crush led him on then denied being gay and started dating girls. Lance doesn't want to get burned again.
Lance's best friend, Allie, is straight. Mostly. She's been with her boyfriend Chip for ages and the thrill is gone. When she's introduced to Kimiko, they make an instant connection. Allie feels attracted to another girl for the first time and is intrigued by the idea of trying out for the other team.
So many aspects of this story felt real and fresh to me. I loved the portrayal of teen sexuality. Usually we see gay or straight characters and you've done a nice job showing that not everyone fits those labels. The relationships between the teens and parents are superbly done. I also really appreciated the exploration of cultural backgrounds, and how they play a part in our acceptance of differences. Sergio's parents, for example, are Hispanic and religious. They encourage him to date girls, not boys. Here's an exchange between Sergio and his mother, after Lance breaks up with him:
"I talked to (Padre Ralph) about you," his mom continued, and he knew she meant about his bisexuality. "He says you need to pray to change."
"Change into what?" Sergio crossed his arms. "I don't want to change. I'm happy with who I am."
"You don't seem happy," she replied.
"That's not because I'm bi," he argued. "I felt like crap when Zelda dumped me too."
His mom was quiet for a moment, her eyes fixed on the crucifix she'd hung on the wall above his headboard. She'd put a cross up over every bed in the house. "Padre Ralph says that as long as you don't act on it, it's not a sin."
"Too late, Mom. I've already acted on it."
Sergio's parents are disappointed, but not angry or in denial. This scene ends with a loving embrace.
What really made the book for me was Kimiko's relationship with her mother. In the Japanese culture, the worst thing a girl can do is bring dishonor to her family. Kimiko's mother treats her like a disgrace. When Kimiko gets her eyebrow pierced, her mother notices and freaks out at dinner:
"What have you done?"
Kimiko didn't dare look at her; she could feel her mom's stare drilling into her.
"It's bad enough that you make yourself look like a boy. And now you make yourself even uglier?"
Kimiko sat silent, feeling as though a knife were slicing into her.
"It makes me ashamed to look at you. Take your food to your room."
Eventually these two reach a tenuous understanding. This part of the storyline is heart-wrenching and I had tears in my eyes several times while reading about Kimiko’s painful journey.
If I've made it sound as though your book is full of sad-faced angst, it's not. Boyfriends with Girlfriends is a light, easy read. Someone on Goodreads called it "fluffy and honest." That description works for me. I blinked away tears, I laughed out loud, and I even gasped in shock a few times. I was surprised by my level of engagement because the writing style is spare and awkward and almost careless. The POV switches made my head spin. And yet, I can't consider those things flaws because they added to the MTV-personality of the piece. This one smells like teen spirit.
Both of the romances are cute and sweet. There are no happy endings, only hopeful beginnings. The relationship between the boys is more physical and there is a sex scene. I think some graphic language is used (swearing), but there are few graphic sexual details. I would recommend it for teens and parents; gay, straight, and anything in between. Thank you for telling this story. B+