Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
With romance often being a hit and miss for me, I’m glad to say I found another romance book that I enjoyed! It was also my first sports themed book, which I never thought to read because I’m not into sports, but I ended up really liking that part of it too!
Our main character is Sebastian Hughes, a talented soccer goalie going into his senior year after the summer. This summer, he’s excited for his last year of training camp. He has an amazing coach who is open to team members of any sexuality, and he looks forward to spending more time with his teammates.
But his excitement is dampened when he realizes Emir Shah has joined the camp this year. The boy is Sebastian’s old best friend, but they haven’t spoken for years, and Emir seems to hate him. On top of that, Emir doesn’t even seem interested in connecting with anyone else on the team. However, if the Lions are going to have a chance in the upcoming games, their team needs to be together. They need Emir. Determined to help Emir and regain his trust, Sebastian keeps seeking him out, and slowly their relationship goes from awkward tension to something more.
Okay, so this was cute and heartwarming! It’s pretty close to a hate to love romance, for while Sebastian doesn’t hate Emir, Emir is way less friendly towards him at the beginning. I loved seeing Emir slowly open up again to Sebastian, and as Emir admitted to being socially awkward and nervous, the difficulties that Emir went through as Sebastian tried to get him to connect more with the other teammates were pretty relatable at some times.
I think that what I really liked about this book was the wide range of things it covered in addition to the core romance. Sebastian was bullied as a child for being chubby, and because of this you see how he still struggles body esteem. This book really showed the two sides that boys and men can have—one where they feel obligated to fulfill that tough man stereotype, and another where they are only human, with their own emotions and fears.
Boys aren’t supposed to cry, but the author showed the layer underneath all the tough exteriors and jokes, and the different code for dealing with emotions. You don’t just openly discuss your feelings. If you do decide to speak to a close friend, it’s still done under this secretive air. Still, even with the “don’t be sappy” code, the team tried their best to be there for each other in a different way, and I loved watching the whole family dynamic going on. These boys were far from perfect, but come on, they are teenagers, and they tried the best with what they had been given.
Also! Let’s talk about diversity! Isn’t it just so cool that the team is openly accepting of any sexuality? I’m giving an A+ to their coach. The book is also racially diverse—Hunter is Black, Gio is Hispanic, and Emir is British-Pakistani and a practicing Muslim. His faith comes up a few times in the book, and I loved that it wasn’t just pushed to the side and hidden. He brings up his prayers, as well as the topic of racism. While the book is ownvoices because the author is gay and not for Muslim rep, I saw in the acknowledgements that the book had a sensitivity reader for this, and… That actually turned out to be Fadwa, a blogger I follow, so that was a really cool moment there!
However, one of the things that bothered me in this book was the writing style. I’m not sure why the author decided to choose 3rd person present tense, which made the writing feel awkward and threw me off. Some passages and dialogue also just weren’t as well written as they could have been. This was a debut novel, though, so I’m not going to be way too critical.
The second thing that did bother me was the writing of Grey. Grey is the coach’s daughter, and has a crush on one of Sebastian’s friends one or two years older than her. I felt her character was not well written, and even though it got better at the end, the way she was treated also really bothered me. Often, she came off as much younger than she really was and more childish. So while Julian Winters can write male characters, I guess I have to say he could use some practice writing female ones.
Apart from that, though, I’d recommend this book! It’s a diverse, queer love story which manages to be a fun and relaxing read without neglecting other more important issues.