Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey
Review by Lauren
source: copy for review; all opinions are my own
Official Summary: Seventeen-year-old Connor works his butt off to maintain the golden-boy persona he’s created. He has the grades, the extracurriculars, the athletics, and a part-time job at his dad’s shop… every detail specifically chosen to ensure the college scholarships he needs to get the hell out of the Podunk town where he lives. The last thing he needs is an unexpected attraction to Graham, an eyeliner-wearing soccer phenom from St. Louis, who makes him question his goals and his sexuality. Sure, he’s noticed good-looking boys before—that doesn’t have to mean anything, right?—but he’s got a girlfriend. There’s no room on the agenda for hooking up with Graham, but the heart doesn’t always follow the rules.
As he and Graham grow close, other aspects of Connor’s life fall apart. Family pressure, bad luck, and rumors threaten to derail his carefully laid plans. Suddenly the future he’s fighting for doesn’t seem quite as alluring, especially if he has to deny who he really is to achieve it.
Review: I’ve read- and loved – a few books by Bailey, but the characters were all usually college-aged. In Guyliner, our main characters are juniors in high school, and I really liked that dynamic. It meant that family played a larger role than is sometimes so in adult novels. This book focuses on Connor and Graham, who ultimately fall for each other. The road there takes some time though.
Connor is known as “The Golden Boy.” He’s a star baseball player, gets perfect grades, is good to his siblings, and has a cute and respectable girlfriend. As for Graham, he’s new to the town and is the “Guyliner” in the title. He’s out and proud, a star soccer player, and is often found saying way too much when bullies get in his way.
Connor notices Graham right away, and it’s clear from the beginning that Connor has had feelings about guys before. He’s always ignored them until Graham, though. His girlfriend, Allyson, is great, one of his best friends, but the two of them are hardly physical. She’s okay with that though, and she calls Connor out when he tries to kiss her, knowing that he’s not being true to himself. She doesn’t suspect he’s gay, but she does know that he’s trying to put on some sort of act.
When Connor and Graham are forced to spend Saturday afternoons cleaning out a sports shed in lieu of normal detention, the two start to get to know each other better. They even spend a monumental weekend in Chicago with Graham’s parents that leads to a lot of truth telling from both of them. Graham has already been through something traumatic that has made him determined never to hide his sexuality again, and it’s definitely heartbreaking. It’s easy to see why he won’t hide just for Connor, even if he does want to be with him.
This is definitely a great book for teens, but I think adults would enjoy it too. It’s not full of too many physical moments, but what is there is done well. I thought the characters were fully-formed and I loved getting to know each set of parents and families, as well as their friends. Even the secondary characters seemed to be multi-dimensional and I always appreciate that. The romance is the surrounding topic of the book, but since this is more about accepting oneself and being true to who you are, don’t expect too much of a relationship until the end. I don’t mind coming out stories – because I do think they will continue to be needed – but they do make me wish I had another book that really explored the two characters together.
Regardless, Guyliner was a good read. I’ll continue reading this author for sure!