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.
Sebastian is an awkward teenage soccer player whose whole life revolves around his favorite sport. He is the one with the cool head in the team, a peacemaker and negotiator, total captain material but at the same time, he is also feeling lost because he doesn’t have a clue what to do after graduation. He also turns into a clueless idiot when having to talk to Emir — his British Pakistani once-childhood-best-friend-turned-noone — whom he wants to help with the game.
“He has. Sometimes he daydreams about being the leader who gets the team a trophy. It’d be incredible. But it’s an awesome responsibility too. It’s like floating on the ocean, being weightless and consumed at the same time.”
Their relationship is the sweetest part of this book. It takes time for them to uncover their resentments about becoming apart during their early teens and now slowly have to start building up the trust again. There are lots of hurdles in the way – Bastian has to deal with his insecurities and low self-esteem issues and the shy introverted Emir has to come out of his shell and try to open up to Bastian and also the team. While they have some trouble in navigating their newfound feelings for each other, their sexuality is never an issue. Bastian may be a little terrified of telling his family he is bisexual, but his friends know and it’s all cool with the team. Emir is a practicing Muslim gay teen who is totally comfortable with his orientation while also being true to his religious beliefs. They both are so cute together and I absolutely loved their morning runs, rainy soccer lessons and the adorable summer dates. Their feelings for each other are so obvious even though they never talk it out but everyone around them can totally see it.
“When it comes to being anything other than straight, it seems there’s a fine-print clause: a penalty for full disclosure when you belong to the LGBTQ community. Sebastian doesn’t get it. It shouldn’t matter if he falls for a girl or boy. Love is supposed to be a happy, comforting emotion, but it always comes with conflict. And being anything but straight means making these huge declarations to the people closest to you.”
This book has some amazing side characters. Bastian’s group of friends are super cool – I loved Willie and Hunter and Grey. Mason and Zach act like douches sometimes, but are also very supportive of everyone in their team. They are also a very diverse group of teens but their races or orientations are never an issue in their friendships or team. Coach Patrick is the best example of how a mentor should be – tough, dedicated, motivating and also very inclusive and encouraging of all his players. His belief that anyone should be able to play on his team, purely based on merit and irrespective of their sexuality forms the crux of this story and that’s the attitude he inculcates in all the boys. The parents in this book are also very accepting of their kids and their support shines through.
“Bastian, you can do whatever you want, when you want. The only thing in life you have to do is live it.” Her hand covers his, squeezing. “Go to college, chase your dreams of being a pro athlete. Or take some time off, find yourself, and be an ‘adult’ later.” Sebastian blinks hard. “Just because people create rules doesn’t mean those are your rules. I don’t follow those rules; neither does your dad.”
There is obviously not a lot of plot here. It’s just about a boy finding his footing in life, falling in love and accepting himself for who and how he is. The whole vibe of this book is very positive with wonderful messages about being okay with feeling lost, letting life take it’s course, playing sports not just for the sake of winning but for being a part of a family based on mutual respect, parents being the biggest champions of their kids, and not judging anyone based on social constructs and inherent prejudices.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves character driven, wholesome and heartwarming stories. Perfect summer sports romance with beautiful friendships.
“The future is only grim because people see it that way. It’s unpredictable. Life is a summer storm of insecure thoughts. There’s an umbrella of precautions to prevent insecurity, but it doesn’t always keep the rain out of your face. Besides, over the summer, Sebastian’s learned that he doesn’t mind the rain. Good things happen in the rain. It’s great for scrimmages and sleeping in and accidental kisses with the one person you think hates you most.”