Listen up, LGBTQ youth – and really all LGBTQ people – a new book is about to hit shelves that will give you the warm and fuzzies.
“The Sky Blues” (Simon & Schuster, 325 pp.) ★★★1/2 (out of four.) out April 6, centers on Sky Baker, an out gay high school senior living in Rock Ledge, Michigan. He has a major prom-posal plan in the works for his crush Ali, but when that plan falls apart after an unfortunate email blast, Sky’s journey to self-confidence truly begins.
Debut author Robbie Couch – who had already chugged three cups of coffee before we spoke in late March – has gone on a journey of his own.
Couch, who is gay, has always wanted to write a book but started to think about it more seriously in his late 20s. Partly in response to the rise of former President Donald Trump.
“Even though ‘The Sky Blues’ is certainly not a political book on its face, there’s nothing explicitly political about it, I think it was really scary for me to look at how his candidacy back in 2016 was really resonating with communities like the one I grew up in in the Rust Belt in a white working class town,” Couch, now 32, says.
This inspired him to write a story centered on someone who was marginalized, though Sky’s experience is different than his. Couch came out as a freshman in college; Sky faces much more blatant homophobia being out in high school.
“For Sky and for many high schoolers who are still in communities that can feel a lot more conservative and isolating, sometimes they come out and are the only person in their community who is openly gay or LGBTQ and that can be a lot tougher, especially when you’re a kid,” Couch says.
Rom-com reading:The best new books that made us laugh, swoon and root for love
While he wanted to write a story that reflected his own experiences growing up, he also strived to make his book inclusive. This included adding prominent characters who aren’t all the same. Marshall, Sky’s best friend, is Black; Ali is Iraqi-American; and his friend Dan is transgender.
“It is so crucial that more diversity and different backgrounds and perspectives have space on the page,” Couch says. He clarifies that the book doesn’t reflect experiences of a Black teen, but that experience through Sky’s eyes.
One such moment comes when Sky realizes why Marshall’s father is so concerned every time his son leaves the house. He compares how careful Marshall has to be to how he has to act “straighter” sometimes.
“What else am I not seeing?” Sky wonders. Couch points out he has a similar experience with Dan, too.
With a limited number of LGBTQ narratives in mainstream media, people will undoubtedly compare Couch’s book to the likes of “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” which was adapted into the film “Love, Simon” (a connection he takes as a compliment).
A recent tweet from Couch addressed the concept of comparison and its implications: “‘Queer Rom-Com X is just like Queer Rom-Com Y.’ okay well if lgbtq people can tolerate 1,000,000 rom-coms with nearly identical narrative arcs that star straight white 30 year olds, you can tolerate a few queer rom-coms that happen to have an overlapping theme or two,” Couch wrote in a tweet last month.
He says sometimes, we approach representation in media as if there’s only a limited amount of space or methods to tell stories.
In case you missed:Lil Nas X’s Satan imagery angers parents. But advocates say critics are missing the point.
“That’s just the wrong approach to seeing it that way, because when you limit that space, it’s really easy to start comparing titles or movies or books in ways that I think is kind of reductive,” he says.
“We have to force ourselves to not think that way,” he adds. “We should be able to have a million stories that represent the queer experience in high school, and have that be OK.”
Something that sets Couch’s book apart is that it focuses on Sky after he came out, as opposed to telling a more traditional coming out story. It’s not that there isn’t space for coming out stories, Couch says, but queer media and LGBTQ stories can get pigeonholed.
“It was intentional for me to highlight the experiences of a teen who is in that awkward post-coming out phase as opposed to the build-up of coming out,” Couch says. Coming out stories can suggest the person comes out and faces sunshine and rainbows. But the reality can involve awkwardness, tension and backlash from family and friends, too, some of which Sky faces along with joy.
And speaking of joy: Get ready for Couch’s second novel, “Blaine for the Win” in 2022 which he says is super queer and inspired by “Legally Blonde.”
Consider our interest piqued.