Edited by Steve Berman
Boys of Summer
Bold Strokes Books / May 15, 2012 / $13.95
Walt Whitman referred to a “Mad, naked, Summer Night!” In the pages of Boys of Summer, acclaimed editor Steve Berman’s latest anthology, talented authors and fresh voices reveal the allure and excitement of the season for gay teens. June always promises romance. July entices with its raw heat, and August offers a languid fire that will burn out before autumn’s approach. These are stories of young love and adventure, when the sky’s ceiling is a bright blue marvel, when another boy’s laughter at the beach can distract from dull summer jobs.
Boys of Summer, edited by Steve Berman, is an anthology of short stories about young gay men in love during summer. The blurb sounds like a vacation read for high schoolers, but the stories and the romances are complex enough that I think adult readers might also appreciate the anthology.
What I loved most was that, even though many of the stories featured attractive young men you might expect to see in an Abercrombie ad, many of the stories also featured geeks (conventionally attractive and otherwise) of one kind or another; everything from an inveterate reader of fantasy novels in “Breakwater in the Summer Dark” by L. Lark to band geeks in “Brass” by Marguerite Croft and Christopher Reynaga. The hero of “Bark if You Like Boys” by Sam Cameron is even a reader of romance novels!
Robin gave the book in her hand a disgusted look. “Look at these abs! Definitely Photoshopped. Completely sexist. Don’t you get angry when some publisher’s marketing division perpetuates ridiculous masculine stereotypes?”
Sean glanced at the shirtless model. Another historical romance set in the Scottish highlands, so of course the guy had long hair, a flawless body, and improbably perfect shining teeth. Inside the book, the hero fit every single cliché of romance writing: dark, brooding, courageous, tormented, and absolutely ferocious in bed. Sean knew that for sure because he’d read every previous book in the series and substituted his own name for the vapid heroine’s.
“Yes, I’m completely furious,” Sean said, and made a note to grab the book when Robin wasn’t looking.
My favorite story in the anthology features an art geek who meets a science geek in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing,” by Ann Zeddies. Shane in “Portrait” had hoped to spend his vacation looking cool and impressing the cool kids, but instead he’s stuck with his parents in a lakeside house, in a bedroom with cowboy-print blankets, and being forced to share his room with Chase, whom he doesn’t remember as anyone interesting at all. At first, Shane seems like a typical teenage boy, but as his characterization deepens, his uniqueness is revealed, as is that of Chase.
“Amphibians,” Chase said, like that was a perfectly normal topic of conversation.
“Really,” Shane said. His eyebrow shot up before he could stop it.
…Shane was intrigued by the audacity of a geek who would just go on saying what he wanted to say.
In return, Chase finds Shane’s artistic talent intriguing.
[Chase] looked up and smiled, his gaze browsing over Shane’s face as if it were another drawing…“You’re good,” he said. “I didn’t know you could do that. I like the kind of abstract ones the best. They have a flavor to them. They’re different.”
The two boys have a lot more in common than Shane understands at first, and only slowly does he realize they might share something special.
Chase kept saying things that actually meant something. It was like he could see into Shane, and knew where to punch him so it would hurt. Why couldn’t he just talk about nothing, like a normal person? This wasn’t normal.
And there’s humor, as well.
“Mating! You didn’t tell me that’s what we were listening for! You mean the frogs are getting it on and we’re listening? That’s gross.”
“No, no, we’re just listening to the frog singles bar. Those calls are what they call ‘advertising.’ The frog is trying to lure potential mates. They’re like, ‘Here I am! Where are you?’ Or maybe, ‘Hey, I’m a Green Frog. How ’bout it?’”
Though the stories aren’t terribly long, each is immersive enough that I felt I’d experienced a full character arc. I liked some more than others, but because characterization was at a premium, I never felt any urge to skip. Overall, a fun anthology, whether you like m/m or just romance in general.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. She has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform,” a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.