Golden boys by Phil Stamper

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Sal, Gabriel, Reese and Heath are four gay boys, a close friendship group, in their final years at school and taking the opportunity of the summer break to explore potential career paths. They have been good friends throughout high school and keep in touch via text messaging and facetime when they are not spending time together. At first it is a little difficult keeping track of the different characters as the chapters alternate between the four points of view. But reading becomes easier as they move into their different fields of interest: Sal has an internship with a politician, Gabriel is volunteering with Save Our Trees, Reese is heading to design school in Paris, and Heath is working at a beach bar run by members of his family he hasn’t met before.

The summer break is not an easy time; the friends are separated for the first time, catching up isn’t easy, and they each encounter challenges in the paths they’ve chosen. And . . . there are new friendships, even romances, potential threats to their previous close-knit relationships. 

A strong theme in the book is the pressure placed on young people in the voluntary roles they take on; job experience opportunities turn into workplace exploitation where they are driven to work longer hours for little or no money in the hope of a good reference or the entry to a paid position. Sal’s proposed 20 hours a week placement turns into 50 hours unpaid work, Gabriel finds his volunteer opportunity turns into street collecting, Heath’s casual work is high pressure, and even Reese’s short term course is much more demanding than he expected. This is all something that young people are only too familiar with.

However the main take-away from this book, is the value of true friendship. There are many stories of young friendship groups, but it must be a welcome discovery for young LGBTQI+ teenagers to read such a warm and positive story of 4 young gay people finding their way at an age when every teen struggles to work out their future path. With themes of identity, self-expression, parental expectations, youth exploitation, and career choices, Golden boys would make an engaging and enjoyable read, for all young adult readers regardless of their sexual identity.

Themes: Friendship, LGBTQI+, Romance, Careers, Workplace exploitation.

Helen Eddy