Vanilla
by Merrell, Billy






Told in a series of blank verse poems, two boys Van (called Vanilla) and Hunter tell of their relationship which began before they were teenagers, but foundered in high school, mostly because Hunter thinks they should be having sex and Vanilla is not so sure.





Billy Merrell is the author of Talking in the Dark, a poetry memoir published when he was twenty-one, and is the co-editor (with David Levithan) of The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award.

Merrell is also a contributor to the New York Times-bestselling series Spirit Animals, and has published fiction, poetry, and translations in various journals and anthologies. Born in 1982, he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and received his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his husband, author Nico Medina.





*Starred Review* Hunter and Vanilla have been boyfriends since middle school, but, now 17, their relationship has begun to fray. Ostensibly this is because Hunter is ready for sex, while Vanilla is not. But perhaps there's something deeper here that the reader will learn along with the two boys. Merrell's first novel-in verse, of course, Merrell being an accomplished poet-is a sometimes melancholy exercise exploring the enigmatic face of love and its various meanings. The two boys, though alike at first in their love, are two different people-Vanilla being a shy introvert, Hunter an outgoing though sensitive poet. Their story is told in alternating first-person voices, although in the book's second half, a third voice is added to swell the duet to a chorus: that of a flamboyantly gay boy named Clown, who is, at first, Vanilla's bÍte noire, teasing and making fun of him. But, like Vanilla and Hunter, he changes. A strength of Merrell's thoughtful book is how he dramatizes the many changes the boys go through in terms of their fluid relationships and growing maturity. An important part of this is their evolving sexuality, a process not without surprises and satisfactions. The book is, in sum, a feast for those hungry for character-driven literary fiction. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.





Falling in love was the easy part for Hunter and Vanilla…staying together's the challenge."You two have been married / since the seventh grade," says their in-your-face queer classmate Clown. Hunter and Vanilla progressed slowly from being friends to being a couple, and now, at 17, everyone thinks of the two white boys as inseparable. Clown and another aggressively gay classmate regularly throw sexually charged, all-male parties for The Gang. The boys don't usually attend though Hunter seems to want to. He's ready to take their relationship beyond kissing and petting; Vanilla is not. Merrell's debut novel for young adults explores the rocky relationship of the duo in minute emotional detail from both boys' perspectives as well as from the outside through Clown's eyes—which gives readers a more nuanced view of gender-fluid Clown as well. Different typefaces indicate the point-of-view character for each free-verse poem as they remember the early days of their relati onship and coming out and as they fumble through first romance and new sexual-identity issues. The verse is at times beautiful, touching, and though-provoking but at other times feels merely like prose broken into short lines. It presents a mature and frank (though not explicit) picture of a relationship struggling to survive. Tighter construction might have added more punch to the poetry, but teens will identify with the quest for identity and ground in that most groundless of times. (Verse fiction. 14-18) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.






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