Boyfriends with Girlfriends is a teen/young adult novel about four suburban teens, two bisexual and two gay, two boys and two girls, two pairs of best friends, who are in different stages of dealing with their orientation when they meet, but grow in the process of getting to know each other. The two boys, Lance and Sergio, first meet on the internet, then get together for a face to face at the mall, bringing their besties, Allie and Kimiko, as a safety net.
Lance is gay but has never had a real boyfriend; just a schoolmate who kept everything they had on the down low, ignored him in school, then freaked out, ended it and started dating a girl. Sergio has recently suffered a breakup with a girl who cheated on him, whose excuse was that she was afraid he would cheat on her, because he was bi. He has hooked up with several guys but never had a real boyfriend either.
Allie is Lance’s straight best friend and is dating Chip, but that relationship is losing steam. She becomes friendly with Sergio’s best friend Kimiko, a boyish lesbian girl who shares her interest in manga, writes poetry and is Japanese, a culture that Allie is enchanted with. Kimiko has always known she is gay and dresses like a tomboy, but has never had a girlfriend. She is struggling with her Japanese family’s traditional expectations, especially her mother, who constantly complains about her boy clothes and short hair, and how they make her look ugly.
Lance and Sergio like each other but Lance’s belief that bisexuality doesn’t exist paired with his overeager demand for immediate exclusivity is off-putting to Sergio, who is not ready to trust so easily after the bitter breakup with his girlfriend.
As Allie becomes closer to Kimiko, she begins to questions her sexuality, but Kimiko has her own reasons for holding back: she is afraid of dishonoring her traditional Japanese family and she cant believe anyone as pretty as Allie would go for her and Allie has told Chip she wants to take a break from dating, but hasn’t made the break-up final.
This book has two bi characters. One is secure in his bi identity, the other is newly exploring her feelings. I loved the way Sergio doesnt hesitate to challenge Lance’s biphobia–he is my new literary hero. And I love that Kimiko, who is also a poet, turns Allie on to the Kinsey scale, and bisexual and gay poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Audre Lourde and Walt Whitman.
Lammy Award-winning author Alex Sanchez (most known for his Rainbow Boys series) manages to educate about bisexuality, bi-phobia, plus bi and gay literary pioneers, by putting it into the dialogue between the characters, in a way that is utterly naturalistic and believable.
Sanchez authentically captures the insecurities and fears of each character, the banter between best friends, the excitement of being interested in someone new, the effort to be cool, and the miscommunication between teens that can derail a relationship before it has a chance to get off the ground.
The author describes a variety of parental reactions to the coming out of their teen, running the gamut from Lance’s supportive parents, to Sergio’s church-going Mexican parents who put subtle and not so subtle pressure on him to date only girls, to the blowup between Kimiko and her traditional Japanese mother, who then stops speaking to her. However, no one is kicked out or forever disowned. Something that does happen to lots of gay and bi teens. There’s no education here about having a backup plan, should coming out to parents go awry. Which one of the characters could have arranged, just in case, but then not had to use it. Something to think about adding for the next reprint.
The book focuses mostly on the LGBT aspects of the story, something I had no problem with, but when the author is trying to convey that the characters discuss other topics that don’t advance the story, he basically reports a list of those topics, instead of creating a smooth transition, which is a bit awkward and obvious. The other inauthentic aspect is that Sergio’s parents go from telling him to pray the gay away, to accepting him, in one conversation. I think realistically, that would require more time.
When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a bisexual book aimed at teens. I only encountered two or three books that even mentioned bisexuality when I was in high school and they were all for adults. I am thrilled that bi teens now have something that speaks to them and supports their identity. This is the first young adult novel I’ve seen with a teenage character who is out and proud about being bi from the first chapter of the book.
I would highly recommend Boyfriends with Girlfriends to teens, parents, teachers, school counselors, LGBT centers and therapists who work with the teen population. Librarians and bookstores take note!
Boyfriends with Girlfriends
By Alex Sanchez
Simon & Schuster BFYR
Hardcover, $16.99, 217p