I’m delighted to once again have on the site Julian Winters, author of the upcoming bi YA sports romance Running With Lions! In case you missed his last post, Julian interviewed webcomic creator TJ Ryan, and today, he’s back to do some book recommending!
In Running With Lions, the main character Sebastian has two things he believes he’ll never survive without: soccer and his friends. He’s in his last year of high school, faced with the choices of what lies next for his future, and trying to navigate a troublesome re-connection with his ex-best friend, Emir. The only thing he can fall back on is his friendships. I thought it’d be fun to look at some of my favorite YA books that tackle coming of age, hardships, humor, and romance, but also my favorite topic: “How much do our friendships help shape people we become?”
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Superheroes? Check. Girl crushes? Check. A band of uncertain teens taking on a corrupt agency while trying to keep their own friendships together? Double check. This book (and series) is a fun and wonderfully diverse with a great look at how friendships change when secrets are involved. And it’s impossible not to fall in love with the main character, Jess Tran or her genius little brother and their MonRobot, Chả.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
In a town where the quarterback is the homecoming queen, cheerleaders ride motorcycles at pep rallies, and being LGBTQ+ is like wearing a T-shirt and jeans, Paul faces more important things than his crush on the new guy, Noah. He’s torn between being the ultimate best friend to Tony, who lives in a town where he can’t be openly gay, and trying not to meddle in his other friends complicated drama. The ever-changing dynamic in Paul’s circle of friends takes a toll on his life and asks all the right questions about how far we can go for friendships.
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Daniel’s senior year of high school isn’t exactly what he thought it’d be. Yes, he’s been accepted into his dream art school, but the rest is a journey through dark family secrets, pining over his best friend, standing up against policies, and dealing with loss. But Daniel’s complicated relationships with his friends is an honestly raw look at what we’ll do in the name of friendship and to amend for mistakes we’ve made in the past.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle Mendoza doesn’t have friends. Or, at least, he doesn’t set out to find any. He’s fighting his own battles with family secrets, identity, and anger from an unknown place. And then there’s Dante—the squeaky-voiced boy who loves his parents and swimming (and Aristotle), but struggles with his heritage. Their journey is a magnificent and sometimes painful exploration of friendship and how it heals wounds we never see. How friendship can also unlock pieces of ourselves we’ve unconsciously fought against.
The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
Abby’s goals aren’t like her friends. She’s not interested in romance. She wants to rule the fashion world and she’s not missing an opportunity to get her start by interning at her favorite boutique. Abby refuses to be the queer, fat girl sidekick in her own story. This book is filled with humor and delightful girl crushes and empowerment. It also never shies from letting friendships take centerstage. Abby’s on an unexpected journey of self-love but leave it to her friendship with Jax (and their quest for the best burger) to sweeten this already wonderful summer book.
Openly Straight/Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg
Exploring sexuality and identity is not an easy thing to do when your miles and miles from home. Especially not at an all-boys school where Rafe is struggling to closet himself again and Ben is navigating his own questions about sexual identity. Packed with humor and honest questions, both books have a unique cast of friends that help both main characters understand themselves. It’s those friendships that are just as pure and lovable as Rafe and Ben’s clumsy, complicated (and sometimes non) relationship.
Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski
Quirky best friends Meg and Linus have hit their share of bumps in the road, mainly a break-up and an unrequited crush. But they have each other. For the most part. This fun friendship book is a must-read. Are the things we do for others really in the name of friendship? Can we fly solo without the one person we’ve always depended on? How do we stay true to ourselves when everyone else wants us to be something else? You can’t help but geek out with this sweet duo.
The Weekend Bucket List by Mia Kerick
Sometimes it’s hard being the “good apple.” The one that never steps out of line. Never does anything outrageous. But Cady and Cooper are in their last days of high school, unsure of their place in the world, and ready to take the plunge with a bucket list of things to accomplish. This book isn’t about romance; it’s about finding yourself amidst an evolving friendship and life choices. It’s about redemption when those roads we thought we should walk turn out to be the wrong one. Those changes aren’t easy, but Cooper and Cady’s journey (along with dropout Eli) makes for a wonderful story.
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger
Russel Middlebrook believes he’s the only gay kid in school. But he’s not. There’s a soccer player, the all-star baseball jock he’s crushing on, and a few more, including one of his best friends. Funny antics follow Russel everywhere, including awkward dates with a girl to help his other best friend’s romantic woes. At the heart of this book is Russel’s struggles with coming out, the hurtful choices he makes, bullies, and being himself in the face of who his friends think he is.
Julian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.