Running With Lions by Julian Winters
Published: Duet Books, Interlude Press (June 7th 2018)
Genre: ya; contemporary, romance
LGBT rep: bisexual MC, gay LI, m/m side ship
Rating: 3.5/5 🍑
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My initial review for Running With Lions basically just said: “this book proves that 1) sports are inherently gay & 2) goalies are the best kind of
train wrecks people” and frankly, I stand by this. It’s a contemporary novel about a bunch of teens at a soccer camp, it’s beautifully diverse, and a perfect read for summer.
Our protagonist, Sebastian, is a goalie & if you have ever been into any kind of sport, you know that goalies are always the most wild & weird but also pure people on the team. I think it’s a prerequisite for the position… Sebastian is also bisexual (and yes! they use the b-word!) and honestly, he’s the perfect example of a Disaster Bi. It’s incredible. The amount of secondhand embarrassment you have to deal with in basically every single one of his scenes is overwhelming & every second of it is relatable, because every second of it is rooted in not being straight. It’s such a joy and it’s so refreshing to read about a character like that.
Now the part of the book I loved most, the part that’s the sweetest – is the romance between Sebastian and Emir. Emir is his childhood best friend but they haven’t spoken in years, before he randomly showed up at the camp. Emir is also a gay Muslim – like I said, this book realises the world we live in is a diverse one. I adored Sebastian’s clumsy attempts at making friends with Emir again, how he was desperately trying to hide his very obvious crush but really, it was there for everyone to see.
The romance happens in the heat of summer, somewhere on a soccer pitch or at a running trail in the woods or a bench on front of an ice cream parlor or… This carefree, summery atmosphere is always there, always making things more vivid & more bright. And honestly, it’s the boys’ journey from not-really-enemies-but-definitely-not-friends-anymore to lovers that made me love Running With Lions so much.
This is very much a characters driven novel. I mean, objectively speaking not much really happens – they train, they go on dates, there are some unexpected hospital visits & grand romantic gestures, but overall? It’s not the plot that matters here, it’s the characters. And they’re all so lovely & real! It definitely helps that pretty much none of them are straight? Well, we all know that gay people flock together, but the book also has an explanation for that. Basically, the soccer team is run by a coach who made it very clear he does. not. care. about players’ sexualities, as long as they can play well. And it’s such a CONCEPT! Especially when in real life, this basically doesn’t happen. This team truly is a family & the boys look out for each other at every turn (Sebastian always being the first in line for that). It shows brilliantly in the example of Emir. We meet him as a rather shy recluse but over time he grows into this bunch of sweet fools. Friendships are formed and he truly becomes one of them, part of the family.
But while I loved the book as a whole, there are some little things that bothered me. You could probably chalk all of them up to this being a debut, as well – and a really good, solid one! – but we strive for perfectness in this gay household. The writing can sometimes feel a bit choppy, like there’s too much to say in too few words, and the cuts between scenes are so sudden here & there, that you can get slightly lost. But I think the weirdest part for me was that there really is a lot of showing here, it’s great in that aspect! But then? We would also get the dreaded telling? And it would happen in scenes we already lived and saw clearly enough to make our own conclusions, which makes the inclusion of wordy descriptions even more unnecessary? Telling isn’t even the right term for this phenomena, more like explaining of the showing.
And two other tiny bumps, kind of connected with each other, if you squint. One is the use of an internal monologue of the MC, written in cursive. It might not be a bad thing, per se, more like a personal preference, but yeah, personally I really, really don’t like it & think it’s kind of lazy writing. The other is the fact that Sebastian talks out loud to himself. A lot. Which is cool, I mean I literally do the same… But he does it so much, there comes a point where it feels more like it’s used as a device to describe things rather than just his habit? Like a shortcut in a narrative.
Overall, though, Running With Lions is a wonderful, heartwarming book. It’s packed to the brim with lgbt characters and only a few of them are white and that’s exactly the kind of books we deserve more of. Especially when they’re wholesome and uplifting like this one. Because this is truly a novel about the power of friendship & how having soft, loving people in your life can change it for the better without you even noticing.
Buy Running With Lions on BookDepository.