Corbin hides many secrets from his dad, or “Sarge” as he calls him. Though he is expected to take part in the family dynasty and follow his father and two brothers into the Marines, that is something Corbin is not going to do—secret #1. Dating and eventually marrying a girl is out of the questions since Corbin is gay—secret #2. He doesn’t love football, but actually plays it in order to keep his toxically masculine dad from guessing about secret number two—secret #3. But the most damning of all is the last secret, the one that no one but his boyfriend, Will, knows about and that is Misty Rain—Corbin’s drag persona. Yes, seventeen-year-old Corbin is a drag queen, gay, and has a boyfriend—an emo boyfriend, his total opposite and the love of his life. If Corbin’s father ever finds out, he is dead…maybe literally. Corbin fears being thrown out of his home, hated by his family, and packed off to military school, which would mean losing Will, whom he loves so much.
So Corbin hides it all and lives walking a tightrope of anxiety and fear, made worse by a fellow football team member bully who skates ever closer to the truth of Corbin being gay. It makes things worse when Andrew joins the summer football camp and is targeted as being gay. Now there is someone else to look out for, but Corbin risks being outed if he appears too protective of Andrew. It’s all such a big mess and only made worse when someone just happens to catch Corbin’s Sunday show at the café. One of Corbin’s biggest secrets is now exposed.
So goes the plot line of Dylan James’ new novel, Drag Queens, Emo Tees & Big Dreams. It’s coming of age and coming out story that centers around Corbin and, to a slightly lesser extent, Andrew, along with Corbin’s boyfriend, Will. All three seventeen-year olds have a story to tell in this novel and they are not all happy ones. In fact, I might go as far to say that if a reader of this story is gay and had a traumatic coming out themselves, then there are possibly some triggering moments in this book that should perhaps carry a warning label. There is rampant homophobia, bullying, physical violence done on one of the boys after they reveal they are gay, and real life consequences, especially for Andrew, whose story is, in my opinion, the most brutally honest and so very sad.
While the language Corbin uses is a bit stilted and older sounding than I would like, his tale is one that resonates as true. Yes, I am inclined to say that how his whole saga wraps up is too convenient and the opinions of his father, in particular, change way too fast for my liking, but still, the fears and angsty thought patterns of this teen are quite realistic and understandable given his life circumstances. The football squad, in particular the bully, Thad, also is part of a toxic atmosphere that screams typical locker room behavior and, again, there is the sense that the small victory won there for Andrew and Corbin comes far too easily given the build up to that climactic moment. I’m sorry I cannot divulge details on either of those opinions, but to do so would definitely give away far too much of the plot and ruin the novel for future readers.
The minor worries about plot are offset by how Andrew’s plight unfolds and the aid and comfort given by an older gay man who helps both boys negotiate the dark and dangerous waters they eventually find themselves navigating. Paul, the owner of the café Corbin preforms at, turns out to be one of the best parts of this novel and his care for all the boys is done so well. I also really like how Corbin’s older brother, Steve, handles learning Corbin’s secrets. Will, the boyfriend, who also has his share of problems at home, is so supportive and loving of Corbin and that is just so very sweet.
There is lots to admire about Dylan James new novel and the best part is that a new young adult story is released and shines a honest light on how very different coming out can be for the many teens who face it every day. There are gut-wrenching moments in this story that bear witness to the plight of gay teens and that makes this book all the more important and relevant.