‘Boyfriends with Girlfriends’ by Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez is one of, if not, the most successful authors specializing in fiction for gay young adults. He has won numerous awards, including the Lambda Literary award for So Hard To SayHe also is a trained guidance counselor and spends much of his non-writing time traveling to assist other adults in teaching young adults about tolerance and self-acceptance. Perhaps his best known novels are the Rainbow Boys trilogy, an exceptional set of novels about three gay teenagers who are not only coming of age, but are also faced with the difficulties of coming out.

In this current novel, Sanchez deals with the issue of friendship: between straight/gay/lesbian/bisexual teens, and the interplay of friendship and/or sexual definitions when romance, self-esteem, and culture enter the picture. The four teen characters of Boyfriends with Girlfriends include Lance (openly gay), Allie (heterosexual—or is she—with a steady boyfriend), Sergio (who defines himself as bisexual, although he has only dated girls), and Kimiko (a semi-closeted lesbian). As the novel progresses each of the four continually try to understand how their identities, mores, values, and beliefs intersect with those of their friends and (potential) lovers. Furthermore, the issues of being out/closeted and what happens when you find yourself questioning your sexual identity are also tackled within this novel.

In some ways, there are almost too many themes interacting in this novel. Yet they point out the fact that when young adults deal with self-identity, self esteem, and sexuality, these issues do not occur in a vacuum. They are not singular but interactive in their environment. It is difficult to understand how teenagers define terms like bisexual and think they should apply it not only to themselves but to others. Does the old saying “Bi now, gay later” apply to teens still trying to define and understand themselves? Does describing one’s self as gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual true, real, and indelible, written in stone, or can these definitions change over time, within or without cultures, or who you would describe as friends, cohorts, family? As in his other works, Sanchez does not provide answers; often he truly presents questions for consideration.

In this novel the relationship between gay /bi boys and straight girls is raised. Although the title implies this is central to the novel, one may feel the title is inaccurate.  And perhaps one of the most baffling questions is the failure to explicitly relay why relationships between boyfriends and girlfriends truly exist.

Sanchez’s novel attempts to address a number of issues for teens. What is particularly successful in this novel is Sanchez’s ability to address these questions in the language of young adults. His facility with the language of teenagers, whether gay or straight, promotes sensitivity and understanding. As a writer he is flawless: changing perspectives almost seamlessly; writing vivid descriptions; and, exhibiting his sincere, accurate, and valid portrayals of young adults caught in conflict.

For Sanchez lovers, this book is fulfilling and as enriching as any of his other novels. For those unfamiliar with Sanchez, this book will make you want to search out his previous books. For anyone interested in young adult books, of any kind, this novel will become one you can enjoy and recommend without hesitation.

Boyfriends with Girlfriends
By Alex Sanchez
Simon & Schuster BFYR
Hardback,9781416937739, 217pp
April 2011