‘Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.
While his friends prepare to head off to University, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.
Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realizes there might be a different, more sequinned path for him…
With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.’
Today is my stop on the blog tour for the brilliant new YA release, Boy Queen, by George Lester, and I have a review to share! I read this book from cover to cover without putting it down and loved the story – I particularly think that it deserves a spot in and some attention from school libraries, especially with its look at first relationships, identity, and the anxiety and pressures surrounding the end of secondary schooling.
Boy Queen follows Robin, who is in his last year of sixth form and has applied to drama schools as his next step towards his chosen career, his days occupied by school and extra classes in dance and the theatre arts, the latter something he devotes his time to in an effort to ace the rigorous exams that drama schools require their applicants to pass to earn a place on their courses of study. Unfortunately for Robin, he doesn’t manage to secure a place at drama school, leaving him adrift and unsure of what his next steps are, certain that going to university like some of his friends isn’t for him, even the prospect of applying again next year something that the knock to his confidence initially finds him unable to truly contemplate. Robin is presented as a young man who works hard and wants to dedicate himself to his craft, his confidence a seemingly fragile thing that fluctuates with his sense of self-worth, which is impacted by his experiences with the outside world’s reaction to his sexuality and how he presents himself. When what he has worked so hard for becomes an impossibility in the short term (which should not be downplayed, especially given the pressure that young people face to know their paths and follow them immediately at the end of schooling), he finds himself adrift, his future daunting and uncertain, and his parting from his closest friends and support network inevitable. On his eighteenth birthday, he visits Entity, a club where he gets to see drag artists live for the first time, allowing drag to make the jump from something he has experienced on-screen and at a distance, to something he realises he has the opportunity to take a much more active interest in.
The relationships in Boy Queen are a huge part of the story and, though there are lots that I’d like to talk about, I’m going to focus on two of them. However, I do want to say that I loved the found family features with Robin and his circle of friends, and with the drag artists that he gets to know, such as Kaye, who take him in as one of their own, not just to protect him, but also to teach and to challenge what preconceptions he has about drag and sexuality. The most supportive influence in Robin’s life is his mother, who accepts her son for who he is, while seeking to protect her child from a world that she knows is largely not as accepting as the friends he has found, and wants to keep him safe from the negative influences who will judge him and attempt to make him feel bad for being who he is. Though Robin clearly loves his mum, in his frustration and growing worry over his future he often fails to see all that she does for him, at one point accusing her of never being around, while not understanding that she is rarely home because she is working to make sure that she can pay for everything he needs to embrace his dreams. There are some things that they take for granted about each other that are challenged by Robin’s shifting evermore from child to adult, a time that is proving stressful for the both of them, yet, ultimately, his mother is his biggest fan, certain in the good heart of the son she has raised, and that he has the talent to be whatever he wishes to be.
Robin’s relationship with Connor throws up all sorts of warning signs early on for the reader, from Connor’s reluctance to acknowledge Robin in public, to his insistence that nobody find out that they’re a supposed item (I hesitate to say that they are a couple). While these things are easy for the audience to pick up on, that their relationship is one in which Robin is manipulated and emotionally wounded on more than one occasion is far less clear to him, not only because he wants to be loved, but because he believes he understands the reasons that Connor cannot be as open as he is and has many of the same fears of the consequences of expressing his sexuality. It takes Robin time and support to realise that Connor’s attitude toward him is not acceptable for someone who claims to care for him, and to stop supplying excuses for him to reason away his behaviour, both because he wants to believe better of Connor and because he has convinced himself that he may not be deserving of love and affection; that losing Connor – in whatever way he is willing to be with him – might mean the end of any chance he has at love and he would be foolish to throw it away. Further layers to his experiences with Connor are uncovered as the novel unfolds, the nature of these revelations well-structured within the overall arc of the story and Robin’s realisations about their relationship as he begins to grow into a new confidence in himself.
Boy Queen was released on August 6th and is available on shelves now! Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for the ARC and the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!