May the Best Man Win

Roaring Brook. May 2021. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250625120.
Gr 9 Up–Jeremy Harkiss is determined to triumph senior year, his first year back at Cresswell Academy after coming out as transgender. Jeremy faces bigots and an outdated school code of conduct, and he wants to make waves. First on the agenda is being voted Homecoming King, but he faces competition from his ex-boyfriend, Lukas. Lukas is facing challenges of his own: a dead brother, his parents’ marriage falling apart, and a secret diagnosis of autism that seems to stand in the way of every achievement he desires. The boys’ rivalry gets in the way of other friendships, as well as them facing the truth of how they feel about each other. The author uses this story to bring many important issues to focus. Jeremy is consistently asked to defend his own existence by clueless adults and hateful classmates, and he clearly articulates how frustrated he is with this burden in addition to the challenges of transitioning and cementing his identity. Relationships of all types are explored, and an emphasis on caring for others while also caring for oneself emerges. The pacing is fast, bordering on manic, with the romance wrapping up so close to the end that it feels forced, and the plot feels scattered and overwhelming at times. Some teens will have trouble relating to the characters, who attend a preppy private school, name-drop elite colleges, and see Homecoming as the social culmination of their lives. The villains, a bully student and the principal, are flat and predictable, and seem contrived in the face of so many other inner battles.
VERDICT An additional purchase for school and public libraries.

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