I was worried about this book. As a ciswoman in my 30s, would I be able to identify with the characters in a sweet teenage romance starring a trans boy? Could I step outside my sci-fi/fantasy box and transport myself to summer camp for a few days? It turns out I could.
Let’s get a disclaimer out of the way: I’m friends with author Gabriel D. Vidrine. We go way back to when we both lived in Tucson and danced together. We’ve stayed in touch via FB and have crossed paths a few times over the year. I am 100% reviewing this book here because I know how hard it is for indie authors to get exposure and I want to help out a friend.
But I’m also painfully honest, which means if I don’t like a friend’s book, I just quietly don’t review it and hope they never ask me about it again.
Also, I bought this book with my own money and am not receiving any monetary compensation for my review.
On a Summer Night represents not only a departure from my normal reading habits, but from Vidrine’s normal writing oeuvre. They’re a horror author, and were pretty surprised to be inspired to tell this story. But honestly, you couldn’t tell from reading it.
Casey came out as transgender a few years ago and since then, has attended a summer camp specifically for trans youth. But this year is his last year before high school, and he wants to go to “normal” summer camp with his best friend and try to blend in. He’d like to have a chance to not be defined by his status as a trans boy, but to just be a boy.
Casey’s best friend Ella has her own mission for summer camp: she wants to set Casey up with someone for a summer romance. But Casey isn’t sure if he’s ready for romance. He’s only 14, and life is complicated enough already.
Of course, if you remember being 14, you won’t be surprised to find that Casey develops a crush on his bunkmate Gavin.
There are a lot of obstacles to this romance. Casey doesn’t know if Gavin is gay or bi. Casey himself isn’t out as bi to his parents yet, because they’re still processing the whole trans thing. Oh, and Gavin is friends with the camp bully, Ryan.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised about was how authentic these characters felt to me. Writing teenagers is hard. Some authors make them sound like adults. Others go too far in the opposite direction, cramming dialog with so much slang that sounds outdated by the time the book actually goes to press. Vidrine strikes a good balance of writing teens who act their age but use pretty plain language.
I also appreciated that things aren’t exactly black and white. Casey isn’t perfect — he has occasional unkind thoughts about his friends, he holds a grudge, and he can be a little snotty about what he doesn’t want to do. Ella pushes a little too hard in her attempts to set Casey up, not always honoring the fact that her friend might not be ready for romance. And while Ryan is quite the bully, he isn’t over-the-top in his villainy. He honestly felt like the teenage version of the awful pastor’s son I knew when I was about eight.
This is a sweet summer romance appropriate for a teenage audience. There’s hand-holding, kissing, and the thought that someday there might be more, but no real sexual content.
Some mild trigger warnings: Casey is misgendered a couple of times, and there are threats of violence against characters due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. If you are sharing this book with a young reader in your life who has some anxiety around their own gender identity and sexuality, you may want to read the book first and be prepared to talk to them about their reaction to the more tense moments in the story.
Although I’ve read a couple of transmasculine (or masculine genderqueer) characters in adult books, I’ve got the impression that they aren’t common at all, and especially not in YA literature. We all know representation matters, and I think this book is beautiful for giving young boys the hope that they, too, can fall in love at summer camp.
Pros: Numerous LGBTQIA characters, positive representation, age-appropriate content.
Cons: I’ve got no complaints, this book seems to hew pretty closely to genre expectations.
Conclusion: Summer’s right around the corner, this book couldn’t come at a better time!
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