Date me Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye
Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241435267.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. What starts off as a seemingly lightweight story about a silly school dare turns into a moving description of a teenager's gradual development into a trusted and accepting gay relationship - a first time boyfriend-boyfriend experience. It all starts when Bryson Keller, the handsome school soccer star who scorns high school romances, is challenged in a dare to date the first person to ask him out each week, for 3 months, and if his heart is won he gives up driving his expensive white Jeep to school and has to ride the school bus. The narrator, Kai Sheridan, is a boy who has learnt to hide his sexuality from even his closest friends following an early hurtful experience, but in an angry spontaneous moment he challenges Bryson to 'date me'. Bryson is known for being decent and fair-minded, and he takes up the invitation. At first it is just a friendship with a shared school project and shared music interests, but gradually as they get to know each other better their friendship deepens into something more meaningful.
This is a lovely story that reminded me of Clementine and Rudy by Siobhan Curham, a story of a friendship and art collaboration between two teenage girls from very different backgrounds. Clementine and Rudy is not a LGBTQI+ story but there is the same positive message about being non-judgemental and open to friendship with someone different. And like Curham, van Whye describes young people who are kind and sincere. Both Bryson and Kai struggle with changing family relationships, but each is supported by a sister who understands them, as well as good friends, and the overall message is as the author says 'that, despite those trials and tribulations, there is hope, that we have worth and deserve to be happy'.
I can highly recommend this novel to teenage readers, regardless of their sexuality, for its positive messages about identity, friendship and acceptance.
Themes: LGBTQI+, Identity, Friendship, Romance.