Running With Lions: A Review

Running With Lions: A Review

RUNNING WITH LIONS
Julian Winters
3 stars
gay YA
Goodreads

Firstly, an important note on me: I’m a very picky YA reader. On the day of my high school graduation, I vowed to never read a book that took place in a high school classroom, because that part of my life was over. And I didn’t have to break that vow with Running with Lions: It’s a summer book through and through, and one I really enjoyed.

Julian Winters’s prose is light and sweet, his phrases often poetic. The setting gushes with a certain richness; our protagonist, Sebastian, takes note of plenty of gorgeous summer skies:

The sky stretches toward infinity, a tapestry of every shade of purple and blue, dotted by dim stars.

It’s in third person present tense, and the present tense seemed like a barrier that I hope the author abandons in future works. It made it harder to enter the story and sometimes pulled me out. I saw no reason for it not to have been in past tense, and I think the book would have been better for it. But in the end, it wasn’t too much of a barrier, because I already want to reread it. It has the same vibe as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the kind of books that’s fun to go back to again and again.

I think it’s hugely important for men to write books about queer boys. The boys in Running with Lions talk and act like boys, a little hyperactive, sometimes scary in their recklessness, annoying with their constant insults and inevitable internalizations of toxic masculinity. Young, and lovable, and on their way toward finding love and acceptance.

I also really enjoyed that the romantic interest, Emir, was Muslim. He prays several times throughout the book, and I am so, so hungry for more prayer in books. As someone with lots of early morning memories of Shacharit, it’s a ritual that I think can be depicted beautifully through prose.

I also loved the coach. When I was in high school, our school’s football coach was a misogynist who encouraged homophobic bullying and didn’t believe girls should be allowed to play sports. He cultivated a violent, assault-happy culture. He was an influential man in the community, and I think that when male coaches are decent people, they have just as much opportunity to set a different sort of tone. I really loved that the anti-homophobia and the pride of the Lions team came from the top.

However, I was disappointed with the way girls were depicted in this story. There’s only one female character of note, Grey, and her gender-neutral name isn’t a coincidence: She’s the coach’s daughter, and she fits several archetypes that make me uncomfortable. She’s the tomboy, the manic pixie dream girl, the “daddy’s girl” brat.

At one point, Sebastian asks her why she doesn’t like the shiny car her dad bought her. This exchange followed:

“Too girly.” She sticks her tongue out. “I wanted a muscle car. ... Coach is trying to bribe me into joining the girls’ soccer team. I’m not interested, though.”
“Why not?”
“Just because,” she whines, pouting. At least that hasn’t changed either. She digs the toes of her Chuck Taylors in the dirt.

Let me be clear: It’s totally fine and even realistic to have a girl with internalized misogyny issues, but when she’s the only developed female character and her gender issues are never called out for what they are, it starts to feel (to me) like an issue with the text, not the character. I thought it was kind of crap to have the only noteworthy female character hate girls and girls’ sports and, in the climax of her arc, prove her worth by being better at soccer than the boys. That should not be a route to proving a girl’s worth.

People have been really gushing about this book, so I’m sure some of my opinions will not be popular. But here they are. Overall, I really enjoyed Running with Lions, I think it’s a great summer read, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Winters’s writing.

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