Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ($12.99)
by Nick Havey
For children of the 1990s, the 2001 movie Legally Blonde is a runaway favorite. It’s also a great model for a rom com, which YA author Robbie Couch knows—though, in his eyes, the plot could use a little reinvention for young LGBTQ readers. Following the success of his debut, 2021’s The Sky Blues, Couch’s second novel, Blaine for the Win, transports Elle Woods to Chicago, but in this world, she’s a gay teen boy named Blaine Bowers; while Elle followed her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law, Blaine follows his into their high school election.
On the surface, Blaine seems to be thriving. He’s got a great boyfriend, he lives with his favorite aunt, his friends are stellar, and he’s got the best side hustle he could hope for: painting murals. That is, until his boyfriend—a golden child archetype who would be a nightmare to date in real life—dumps him on their anniversary; according to Joey, Blaine is not serious enough for him. Joey is going to be their future president, after all, and he needs a Jackie O on his arm, not a whimsical muralist who showed up to the fanciest restaurant in Chicago covered in paint specks from his latest project.
In a bid to win Joey back, Blaine decides to run for class president. He’s never participated in student government before, but that’s not going to stop him, and his friends are more than happy to help. His best friend Trish launches the campaign with an insightful listening tour, realizing that past student governments have been too focused on themselves and their positions to accomplish much. Blaine (meaning Trish) is going to change that with a brilliant plan to address mental health at their school, a topic in desperate need of attention.
Between Blaine, Trish, and the rest of their friend group, the underdog story becomes the heart of the novel. Blaine flames out after the debate—public speaking isn’t for everyone—but his campaign still has a shot, though when cunning fellow teens throw a wrench in his plans, it looks like the election might be lost after all. Just when Blaine is ready to throw in the towel, Couch does what he does best: writes lovable companion characters who turn everything around for the better.
Teenagers, including the protagonist of this novel, are selfish, fickle creatures. Blaine makes mistakes and does things that should imperil, if not completely cost him, his relationships—but he’s real. And real teenagers aren’t perfect, but when they’re written by Robbie Couch, they are compelling and relatable. As depictions of queer characters become increasingly nuanced in YA fiction, Blaine for the Win will garner readers’ votes.
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