Book Review: Just A Dumb Surfer Dude

Quick summary: Cooper’s life is fine but uneventful. He’s smart, his classes are easy, he has people who care about him, but he mostly feels like he’s waiting for his life to start. Then a new kid comes to school and everything changes.

(I tried not to spoil things but there are probably mild spoilers and hints about what happens in my review.)

What I thought: Just a Dumb Surfer Dude: A Gay Coming-of-Age Tale is a quick, fun read that would work well for reading during the summer or at the beach but can be read anytime. The “surfer dude” is less important than one might think by the title, but those who like humor, sweet romances, and romantic comedies will enjoy this story.

I really liked the narrator’s voice and liked that there were multiple love interests, that’s not always something you see in LGBTQ teen fiction. It started out a little slow for me, but I got more interested as I kept going.

Depending on how perceptive you are, there may be a fun twist or two. I am usually much better at picking out this kind of thing, but I didn’t see it coming, so I really liked the surprising direction the story went in.

The Romance: Cooper is presented as an intelligent guy, but he has no experience with relationships or dating, so there’s a coming-of-age aspect where he explores getting close to guys romantically. It’s all new and intense and scary. While this story is on the shorter side, it still tells a complete story about finding love. It’s not heavy on the angst but has a few ups and downs and isn’t completely predictable.

If you’ve been reading a lot of stories about boy meets boy and then one or both boys freak out about liking another boy, this book offers variety. Cooper already knows he’s gay, so the story explores finding that special person more fully and what makes someone “the one” without any sexuality crises.

There’s also a sequel.

Plotty Details: Cooper’s life at his all-boys school is okay, but there isn’t much going on. He has one best friend he’s close with and his relationship with his father is important to him. Both he and his father don’t enjoy being single. He’s one of the only gay kids he knows and hasn’t had any romance yet and is sort of getting impatient waiting for it. While there’s no love interest in his life, his best friend is also gay. They aren’t out to everyone, but Cooper’s dad knows.

Cooper finally gets some excitement in his life when a new student comes to school. He’s even paired up with the hot guy in one of his classes. The problem? This new boy seems to like him even though his best friend really wants to go out with the new guy.

Best Part: Cooper has great relationships with his father and his best friend Alex. If you like your romances to have a little more depth, there is also plenty of father-son moments. Cooper and his dad don’t relate to each other perfectly but love each other and that comes through. The father is an English teacher and there’s a lot of little quips I enjoyed about different books. The dialogue was at its most witty when Cooper was with Alex or his father. Cooper’s a big smart alec who loves tormenting the people he loves.

Quote

A quote from Just a Dumb Surfer Dude: about great (or not so great) literature.

“What books did you read this week?”

Catcher in the Rye. Thinking about becoming a totally ungrateful punk who swears a lot, then run off to New York City with a completely inadequate sum of money…. I expect you to be waiting by the phone to rescue me when I somewhat come to my senses. But I’ll still be an ungrateful little brat after all that. Don’t expect much of a redemption arc in my story…. except maybe to give the spoiled little brat in everyone a reason to say ‘yeah, somebody understands me’.”

(Yes, I don’t like Catcher in the Rye.)

Riding With Brighton Review


It’s hard to imagine anyone could find fault with Riding with Brighton. It’s a great character piece and a lovely romance too.

Summary: Jay Hall sees his life from a fresh perspective and finds himself wanting. He wants to change everything and knows just the person to help him: Brighton Bello-Adler, who is just about the coolest person in the world. They spend a few days together and go on an adventure of self-discovery and romance.

About Jay: Jay is unhappy with his life because he’s unhappy with himself. He’s good looking, popular, and an athlete, but he’s not impressed by his friends or any of his accomplishments. Because he’s been living with a part of himself he was too scared to acknowledge. But things are changing.

Jay’s been getting to know someone in one of his classes, Brighton. He likes talking to Brighton but feels really inadequate compared to him. Brighton is a shameless flirt with everyone, charming, an artist, and openly gay. He’s seems very confident and sure of who he is. And Jay wants to be like that. So he thinks.

It becomes pretty clear that it’s not hero worship Jay feels but a crush. It’s really sweet watching Jay gushing about Brighton in the safe context of a role model. He thinks he wants to be like Brighton, but he really wants to be worthy of catching Brighton’s attention.

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It was a sharp right turn, backward a good mile and a half, around corners, down hills, through a forest, and across the universe from where I really wanted to go.

About Brighton: In addition to Jay, there’s Brighton. Brighton is kind of a perfect angel who does no wrong but he’s still a strong character with his own voice. Jay’s the star of the show while Brighton is a supporting player, but again remember that this happens over the course of a few days and Jay has enough drama going on that it would have been too much to add more conflicts for Brighton.

What’s really great about Brighton is that he’s just a normal guy. He’s not boring but his life is going pretty well. And while that might not be great from a story perspective, it’s refreshing and a much needed portrayal of a gay teen in today’s culture. There’s no angst or depression. He has loving friends and a supportive family and being gay is just one part of him. He’s a good counterpoint to Jay and a realistic ,sometimes seldom seen, type of gay teenager.

The romance department is the only area lacking in Brighton’s life. He wants to be a normal kids who goes and dates and takes someone to prom. But there’s not a lot of dating options in his town. And he’s very attracted to Jay. He’s torn between the strong pull he feels for him and keeping his distance while Jay figures stuff out. He doesn’t want to get his heart broken but he can’t help the more attracted he becomes the more Jay shows of himself of Brighton.

What makes it unique: This is an interesting story because all the action takes place in the space of a weekend. It’s like a crash course in Jay’s psyche and emotional development as he dives head first into issues he’s never been able to confront before. The book provides a really in-depth character analysis and there’s lots of upheaval and revelations as Jay fits the coming out process into the span of a few days.

The Romance: The action is both the story of Jay finally being honest with himself and those around him and getting to know Brighton better. They can’t really help falling for each other the more time they spend together. They develop a real connection and a very supportive partnership.

There’s a lot of fun and flirty banter and swoon worthy moments. The book has the feel of a whirlwind romance, something intense and all consuming. But it’s not an artificial, insta-love kinda thing because the main characters get to know each other very deeply in a short amount of time and there’s both big romantic moments and more tender elements where the characters discovering each other and falling hard.

Favorite Part: The prose. The prose is just, really, really good.

My thoughts: Haven Francis wrote a beautiful book that should probably be read more than once in order to fully take in and appreciate everything. It’s life affirming and lovely but also doesn’t solve everything.

Perils of Fake Dating

In One Little Word, Luke needs to use Ryan to get out of trouble. Ryan wants to get Luke back for an old grudge. And then they fall in love? Maybe, but there’s a bunch of other stops along the way.

Here’s an excerpt:

Ryan

My fake relationship seemed to be working out great for my boy toy, but it was pretty inconvenient for me. Time to balance things out. Besides, I could argue it was practical to show up and embarrass him in front of his coaches. I mean interact with him in front of his coaches since he wanted some type of sports scholarship. They should know all about their star athlete and his boyfriend.

I went more subtle than showing up in a cheerleading uniform this time. I wore a pink sweater as it was cold and pink earmuffs for a little flair. Most of the guys had left the field, but Luke was talking to his two coaches at the pitcher’s mound. One of them was older and also the Economics teacher, and the other was younger, probably playing baseball in college.

I jogged up to Luke, giving him a noisy kiss on the cheek and throwing my arms around him. “Hi honey bunny, are you done with practice?”

The two coaches looked at us, blinking and seemingly trying to process. I kept my arms around the rigid jock and smiled enthusiastically at the men.

“Uh, just talking to the coaches… babe,” he said with false cheer. “Give me a second.” He stared into my eyes, telling me get the hell out of here. He didn’t understand me last night, so I ignored him now.

“You’re the cheerleader,” said the older coach.

I had showed up in a cheerleading uniform to his game one time. I guess that made an impression. “My friends call me Ryan, but Lukie calls me his little lemon drop,” I gushed. Technically, it would make more sense for Luke to be the lemon drop: he had blonde hair while I was a brunette, but it was the first pet name I thought of.

Lukie, I didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” responded the younger coach. He grinned and Luke flushed while I soaked in the embarrassment.

“Then you’re the only one,” the other coach grunted. God, even teachers had seen the video?

“What?” the younger one asked.

“Nothing,” Luke said quickly. “It’s nothing you need to see.”

His eyebrows raised.

“We’re an internet sensation,” I said proudly. “Don’t be so modest.”

“We’re hardly a sensation,” Luke argued. He’d pried my arms off him and was holding my hand, gripping it tight. I didn’t back down.

I patted him on the chest. “Let’s not fight in front of your coaches.” I turned to the men with an indulgent smile. “You know how he can be.”

“He’s a great player, keeps the guys focused,” said the older coach slowly, not really sure what was happening.

“Oh, so you just fight with me? I guess I’m special then.”

“So special,” Luke agreed.

I narrowed my eyes. “I didn’t like your tone just then.”

“What?”

“I know you said not to do this in front of them, but I can’t help it. That hurt, Lukie.”

“Oh my god,” he huffed, face red again.

“Well, apologize to your… fellow, Luke,” the older coach said. I fought not to grin as he took my side, looking at Luke expectantly.

“He’s just joking,” Luke assured him, sounding nervous.

Perfect. “Oh, so my feelings are a joke to you?” I raised my voice.

“Luke, come on,” the younger one pleaded. They probably hated dramatic scenes when girls were involved; being around a dramatic gay scene was even worse.

“Son, you’re just going to make it worse,” the older one said.

“Your coaches are smart, you could learn something from them,” I told him, not hiding the grin on my lips.

“Ryan,” he started but I opened my mouth. “Lemon Drop,” he said through gritted teeth, and I let him continue. “I’m sorry.”

I sniffed, turned away. “I don’t think you mean that.”

“I mean it, come on, please,” he begged. I should have captured this moment on camera.

“I can’t stay mad at you,” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him again. The coaches used it as an excuse to leave.

“I’m going to kill you,” he whispered while awkwardly embracing me back.

“Don’t be like that, honey bear,” I quipped and skipped away.

 

~~~

Faking it

Captain of the baseball team Luke Chambers never falters when he’s on the mound. He can make split second decisions without breaking a sweat. In real life? He might have just told a lie that he was dating the only out kid in school. He should stick to baseball. Get the young adult novel One Little Word here.

In this excerpt, Ryan and Luke pretend to date with varying results.

Ryan
It was another wonderful day at school, being some kind of reverse beard for my amazingly attractive straight friend. My hand was casually linked in Luke’s while we walked down the hall. I still felt a tingle just touching him, but I worked hard to hide it while he tried to suppress whatever instincts told him this was too gay. We made an awkward, stilted pair that somehow people still didn’t figure out.

“You two look so queer.” Lydia watched us with an unimpressed look. I glared at her.

“That’s offensive,” Luke protested.

“Don’t let a teacher hear you say that,” I scolded. I couldn’t pretend to date Lydia too.

“I don’t mean queer as in gay,” she explained. “I mean as in weird.”

“You’re not very comfortable,” Alicia agreed.

“Well, everyone’s staring,” Luke protested.

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Please, everyone stares at both of you all the time.”

“Wait, shouldn’t we look queer as in gay?” Luke questioned.

“You should,” Lydia acknowledged. “But you don’t.”

I sighed. We stopped near my locker. I leaned on the metal instead of opening it as that would make this even more awkward since our hands were still joined.

Luke looked around, seemingly trying to gauge how much people were buying this. His calculations didn’t please him because it was like I could see a sign in his heading lighting up that said ‘drastic measures’ as he leaned in to me.

“Don’t kiss me again,” I warned. I couldn’t handle it. Both the hotness and that he then got all weird.

“Dude, we’re boyfriends,” he defended. Yes, a kiss was pretty effective at convincing people; it just worked a little too well on me. Especially now. I faced towards the windows at the end of the hallway while he faced away. Being lit by the sun made him positively glow, like a super-hot angel or something.

I pulled my hand out of his. “You need to relax. You’re trying too hard.”

“But this is… crazy.”

“Yeah, and you don’t let yourself stop thinking about that.” I looked to Lydia and Alicia. “Pretend I’m Lydia,” I said, grimacing.

He considered it for a second, then shook his head. “I can’t.” Thank God.

“Pretend you’re European,” Alicia suggested instead.

Luke nodded like that made perfect sense. “Yeah, okay.”

“That will work for you?” I asked.

Luke shrugged and nodded. “Europeans are weird.”

This was weird. Stupid. He was a terrible actor too, but I still got all nervous and weak-kneed at being so close to him. Luke shuffled his feet, and I prepared myself for insanity. He looked up and past me and something changed. All he did was take my hand and send me a flirty smile, but it seemed way more natural now. Was this him pretending to be European? Did he think Europeans gave bedroom eyes to everyone?

I felt light-headed. I could barely handle him struggling to be my fake boyfriend. I would die if he started to excel at it.

“Well now, this is better,” Lydia said in her version of an approving tone.

“I’m inspired,” he said while looking at me.

I couldn’t help blushing. This would kill me.

“Hey guys,” a new voice interrupted.

“Oh, hi Zach.” I turned my head to see him approaching from behind me. This was awkward, as close to a love triangle as I’d ever get. Holding hands with my fake boyfriend while an actual guy who was interested looked at us, his lips quirked up like this was hilarious. He didn’t seem to notice how weird this was.

“You guys can keep doing… whatever this is.” His smile grew, it was really cute. “I just wanted to see if we were still going to study tonight?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I nodded and unconsciously gripped onto Luke’s hand tighter. He sent me an annoyed look that I ignored. I shyly looked up at Zach. “Yeah, of course.”

“Good.” He grinned at me, sent Luke another amused look, and went on his way.

“You’re studying with him?” Luke asked.

“It’s just studying.” I shrugged.

“That’s an obvious line,” Luke insisted.

“Who cares?” Lydia said, smiling. Her and Alicia took turns giving me a high five.

 

~~~

Night at the Theater

A pretend date from One Little Word.

Ryan

Luke and I went to see the drama club’s fall presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream together. He got to pretend he was an out and proud athlete, and I had someone to go the show with, so I didn’t complain. I flailed internally at how date-like it seemed, but I covered pretty well, I thought. Good thing he was fun to laugh at.

We were early, so we stood in line and waited to be let in while I watched Luke with a bemused expression.

“It’s set in the woods. You’re sure one of them doesn’t wander off and die?” he asked hopefully. “It’s the perfect horror movie scenario.”

“This isn’t a horror movie, it’s a comedy.”

“They should have done Romeo and Juliet instead,” he muttered. His acting chops weren’t that good, but they were good enough people bought our act, so privately I thought he would make a good Romeo. With passionate green eyes and dimples, I could see how any naïve, young Juliet would follow him to certain death.

I felt nervous and excited just from the awkward hand holding we were doing, but I didn’t say any of that. “You like Romeo and Juliet?” I questioned instead.

“It has swordfights and death. It’s the Shakespearean version of an action flick,” he reasoned.

“Well, this is like the Shakespearean Hangover.”

He narrowed his eyes. “No way.”

I shrugged. “Everyone wakes up confused in a forest and there’s a donkey instead of a tiger.”

He didn’t look convinced but said, “I guess I’ll give it a chance.”

“You’re so uncultured,” I teased.

“Dude, don’t be like that. I’m your boyfriend,” he teased back, but I couldn’t handle hearing him say those words.

“Shut up,” I said, removing my hand from his suddenly.

Luke frowned. “I’m just joking.”

“You suck at it.”

He doubled down, clutching a hand to his heart and imploring, “Oh, I’m so sorry, baby. Can you ever forgive me?”

I did not melt. I fought a smile while saying, “Pretty sure you’re hopeless.”

“But you love me anyway.”

The words caught in my throat.

~~~

A real romance?

Luke keeps getting put in gay situations. And now his fake boyfriend Ryan has a real suitor. Luke’s best friend is Zach. Those last two sentences aren’t related to each other… right? Right?

Here’s an excerpt from One Little Word.

Luke

Lunch was awkward. Of course it would be awkward. I had just sucked face with a guy in front of our table. The seniors had gotten up and left, something they usually did when Ryan sat with us, but it felt different now. This wasn’t a video or a rumor. I had just kissed a guy in the cafeteria. I thought the stares were bad before.

“This isn’t right,” Ted said, and some of the guys nodded.

“Come on, man—” I started.

“No, it’s not that,” he interrupted, gesturing between me and Ryan. “I mean, I’m not thrilled about that,” he admitted, looking at us distastefully. Yeah, that was quite obvious I wanted to snap but managed to hold my tongue. “It just seemed like…” Ted looked at Zach and the other guys followed suit.

I looked at him, not getting it. What, Zach had the biggest problem? We were best friends. I’d have thought he’d at least try to be supportive, or pretend to be. Okay, Zach didn’t really do supportive, but I didn’t think he’d go out of his way to be a bigger asshole than he already was. That was true friendship for him.

“Uh, we thought you and Ryan were just pretending,” Joey said carefully. “And just a second ago, we were pretty sure Zach liked Ryan.”

God, Joey was so dumb. The catcher obviously took too many fastballs to the head, even with a helmet. “It must have been a misunderstanding,” I said easily.

“No, he’s right,” Ted said. What? The rest of the guys nodded.

“Zach’s straight,” I informed them. Was that something I even needed to say? He seemed to have a new girl every week.

“Well, actually,” he piped up.

“What?” No, no way. I stared between him and Ryan. Ryan looked down, not saying anything or meeting my eye, and he removed his hand from mine. Shit, I didn’t even realize we were still holding hands.

“Nothing’s going on between Ryan and I,” Zach chimed in when it was clear me and Ryan weren’t going to say anything, “As obviously he and Luke are so in love, but I was inspired by your PDA to come out.”

“How is this even possible? Is there something in the water?” Ted asked sarcastically. Joey put down the bottle of water he was about to bring to his lips, staring at it like it was poison.

Zach looked at Ryan, and the two traded a warm look, like they were in on a secret. What the hell? I suddenly felt annoyed for some reason. I wanted to grab Ryan’s hand again but that felt too petulant.

“Nope, no way,” Ted said. Joey was looking at everyone who passed by our table with suspicion and distrust, trying to see if there was someone with a rainbow sign around their neck reading ‘I’M GAY’ that he missed somehow.

“You’re gay?” is what I asked Zach. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed like the rest of us were freaking out, fidgeting and staring at Zach like there was still a hope he could be joking, but Zach just sat there calmly.

“Bi actually,” he said simply, examining his nails like he was bored. He always had neat, even nails. Was that a sign?

“We’re, uh, supportive?” Ted tried to say but asked instead.

Zach sent him a bitch please look. He was always so good at that expression, just like Ryan. Was that a sign I missed? “You don’t have to say that,” Zach informed him.

“No… we totally accept you,” he said in a flat tone.

“I don’t give a shit,” Zach said easily.

The rest of the guys seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank god,” Joey said. “It’s already enough with those two.” He pointed at me and Ryan. “But apparently you’re also a fa—”

Ted elbowed him, and he stopped talking while Principal Simmons walked by. “I mean, uh. It’s fine. I’m…”

“Supportive,” Zach filled in, amused.

“Yeah, that.”

~~~

Secretly Gay

“Let me get this straight,” Zach said, eyes dancing with mirth as we walked through the halls to the cafeteria.

“You mean let me get this gay,” Joey corrected.

“You know what? I’ll accept that,” Zach decided, offering his fist for Joey to bump. “Good one, Joey.” Why were these two my closest friends? Assholes.

“Oh, come on,” I begged.

“No, you come on,” Zach responded. “Your plan is to fake date Ryan, but secretly, so no one finds out.”

I nodded. “Right.” What was so weird about that? Alright, a lot, but still. It could work.

“But you want the administration to find out somehow.” Zach looked at me like I was a moron, but he did that a lot, so it didn’t really mean anything.

“This is so gay,” Joey interjected.

“No, it’s secretly gay,” Zach quipped.

-from One Little Word

Carnival Contest

Fake boyfriends. Sarcasm. Hand Holding. Find it all in One Little Word. Here’s an excerpt.

Ryan

Luke stared down my grinning form, his arms crossed against his chest, a reverse of our earlier position. Except his arms were more impressive, muscles bulging and straining against the material of his shirt. I teased him to avoid the distraction.

“Now you’re the one who’s a sore loser,” I said. I held a cake wrapped in plastic in my hands. It was white frosting with sprinkles and funfetti cake. Luke tried to get me to pick brownies instead, he was so weird. Funfetti was the best.

He wasn’t impressed. “That was entirely luck based.”

“There was no rule there had to be skill involved.” The possibility of winning sweet treats kept him from complaining when I selected the cakewalk, but he probably didn’t expect me to win. Maybe I had good karma stored up because I always won cakewalks.

“You’re at least sharing that cake with me,” he argued.

“Keep dreaming.”

Luke had given me a root beer when he won the ring toss, which was unexpectedly sweet. Not that he gave it to me, he was probably trying to bribe me into the dunk tank but that he remembered my beverage of choice. I might share my dessert, but he didn’t need to know that yet.

We did basically every event, jostling and trash talking each other at every opportunity. Things that weren’t even really a competition we turned into one, like the duck pond. Except we got into an argument about what actually constituted winning, getting a higher number or drawing a duck that earned two candies instead of one.

It was almost time to head back to our booth. We had time for one more game, where the objective was to knock down cans with bean bags. This was another game where Luke had an advantage, but Alicia was manning the booth for community service credit, so maybe she would help me out.

She just stared at us when we stepped up to her table. “Isn’t this game a little too easy for you?”

Luke nodded. “For me, but I have to give Ryan a fighting chance.”

“Tell that to duck pond, jackass,” I told him hotly.

I won the duck pond, not you.”

Before we could get into it further, Alicia held up her hand. “Yeah, this and the duck pond are for kindergarteners. You know that, right?”

We looked around. The cans were regular empty pop cans, and the bean bags were about half their size, so it did seem pretty simple. Unless you were six and could barely aim. And the people in this line were especially young and all of them had parents holding their hands who were looking at us in exasperation. The little competitive bubble Luke and I were in burst.

“Oh, I guess we shouldn’t do this one then,” Luke said, sounding as silly as I felt. It had been so easy to get absorbed in trying to beat him, everything else was in the background. There was a lot of trash talking and bragging when one of us won with petulant whining from the loser. I wouldn’t admit I hadn’t minded being in Luke’s presence for the moment, that it was almost fun.

“No, don’t let that stop you. By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock Down the world has ever seen.” Her sarcasm skills were almost as good as mine.

We retreated from her booth as she laughed at us for being giant children. I wished I hadn’t drank the root beer Luke gave me. I could have chucked it at her.

“So, who won?” I asked.

I’d stopped keeping score at one point, just wanting to beat him so he wouldn’t be so smug. Plus, maybe he had this ridiculous pout whenever he lost that I wanted to kiss away. Ugh. Being attracted to someone I hated was difficult. I’d feel the urge to punch him one moment and want to shut him up with my tongue in his mouth the next.

“I’m not getting in the dunk tank again,” Luke declared. He looked like he had a bad spray tan, but even orange he was still hot. I didn’t think I could pull off that look so well.

“What if I promise not to accidentally dunk you?” I offered.

“That doesn’t stop everyone who tries to hit the bullseye.”

I smiled. “I may be able help with that too.”

“I knew it!” He rounded on me in anger for a moment. “You’re such a cheater!”

“Do you want to cry about it or do you want me to rig it?” I asked.

He stopped and paused. “Definitely, definitely rig it.”

~~~