A sweet contemporary romance about a boy who falls in love with his best friend, and the girls who help them get together. Jamie Peterson has a problem: Even though he tries to keep his feelings to himself, everyone seems to know how he feels about Mason, and the girls in his art class are determined to help them get together. Telling the truth could ruin Jamie and Mason's friendship, but it could also mean a chance at happiness. Falling in love is easy, except when it's not, and Jamie must decide if coming clean to Mason is worth facing his worst fear. In Fan Art, Sarah Tregay, the author of the romantic Love and Leftovers, explores the joys and pains of friendship, of pressing boundaries, and how facing our fears can sometimes lead us to what we want most. Fan Art is perfect for fans of contemporary romances as well as novels like Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan and Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg.
The main character, Jamie, seems to be the main factor for whether or not you like this book. Some have found him hateful from the very beginning and, if that’s the case for you, the book will be torturous. For me, though, while I didn’t emotionally attach to Jamie, I did feel for him. He’s a very flawed character for sure. He occasionally thinks or says things that don’t reflect well on him, including stereotyping of other gay guys early in the book. He’s not the most likable character in the world, and he isn’t particularly interesting, though he did feel real to me. Jamie’s not the sort of person who stands out in a crowd or an obvious hero.
I was able to forgive Jamie his problems because they so obviously stem from his own lack of self-worth. He’s not comfortable with his own sexuality and doesn’t know how to deal with anything or anyone. Plus, Jamie typically acts nicely, even if he’s a mess underneath. His heart ultimately seems to be in the right place. That said, I think his emotional journey to self-acceptance could have been much more clearly defined. I’m not entirely sure what Jamie’s learned, since everything’s sort of handed to him at the end.
The LGBT elements were pretty well-handled I thought, Jamie’s brief stereotyping of gay guys aside. The author may have included that comment, but the lack of stereotyping in the actual characters she presents suggests to me that there was nothing intended in that phrase. There’s a rather large cast of gay and lesbian characters, in larger and smaller roles. There’s also diversity of race, which yay.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Where Fan Art rather lost me was in the whole plot about the Gumshoe, the high school’s literary magazine. Jamie works on the magazine and is fighting to get the editor to include a comic with a gay kiss in the magazine. A lot of time is spent on his work for the Gumshoe and, frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn. It doesn’t help that, in the ARC at least, the comic is horribly drawn and written, so I found myself having to side with the people who didn’t want to include it even though in theory I am so behind that.
On top of that, there are poems sprinkled throughout Fan Art, other entries in Gumshoe. While I did really like one of them, the others totally bored me. I found that all of that stuff really detracted from time that could have been spent on the emotional arcs. I wasn’t at all engaged whenever Jamie started working on the literary magazine. Fan Art‘s long for a fluffy novel and I definitely had issues with the pacing.
The Final Verdict:
Ultimately, Fan Art is a bit like the comic in Gumshoe. Its heart is in the right place, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. If you’re looking for a light LGBT romance, though, Fan Art might just do the trick.
The novel follows Jamie Peterson, a seventeen year-old closeted boy who is about to graduate from high school with one major problem: he is in love with his straight best friend, Mason. As hard as Jamie tries to keep his sexuality a secret, it seems as though everyone already knows, particularly the slash fan girls in his art class who are determined to help Jamie get together with Mason. But Jamie is terrified that if he confesses his feelings to Mason, he will be rejected and lose Mason’s friendship altogether. While unsuccessfully trying to supress his feelings for Mason, Jamie also has to contend with the annoying editors of the school magazine that don’t want to feature a comic about homosexual characters, a comic that has come to mean so much to Jamie. Jamie must stand up for what he believes in and take a chance on newfound love.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this novel. Reading the reviews on Goodreads conveyed mixed feelings as half of the reviews awarded the novel 4-5 stars, while the other half only 1-2 stars. It was an incredible amount of varied opinions and, as I have always wanted to read this novel, decided that the only way I would receive my answer was to read the book myself. And I am so glad I did.
Fan Art explores the delights and the troubles of friendship and what it takes for one to face their worst fear. The friendship between Jamie and Mason is so dear to both of them that they each fear the consequences of the revelation of their secrets. Friendship was the driving force of the novel; whether it be Mason’s and Jamie’s, Eden’s and Jamie’s, or even the friendship between minor characters like Broadie and Kellen, friendship is depicted as the most important aspect of life and something that ties people together.
I adored the inclusion of the short backstory to the “I love you, man” and what that conveys to the reader. In the novel, a teenage boy (years ago) passed away in a car accident and his friends, when questioned about the impact of his death on live T.V. said, “I love you, man,” which has become the school’s unofficial friendship call among young men. I love that. I love that, in the book, teenage boys feel no fear or anguish of homophobia from telling other males “I love you, man.” It is a simple way to express friendship and I wish it were that easy for teenage boys to do that in real life.
The novel also depicts the pressure and increase of boundaries and how other people’s beliefs and ideas can alter or even impede your own. Jamie is comfortable in the closet; only his parents know he is gay, or so he thinks. Most of the school suspects Jamie’s true orientation and many of the girls in his art class are shipping him with Mason. I know from reading other reviews that this particular issue is what many people took umbrage with: the fact that the girls ignored Jamie’s personal feelings and drew fan art of him and Mason, as well as writing slash fiction about them. The results of their actions forces Jamie to not only be very uncomfortable, but face things he is nowhere near ready to. Deciding when to come out of the closet is an incredibly personal issue and the fact that many characters were attempting to coerce Jamie to do so before he is ready is unconscionable and unfair. I completely agree with many other reviewers on that point, but I do also understand the opposing side, too.
I understand how the girls in the novel, particularly Eden, desire a happy ending for Mason and Jamie and can’t help but want to be a part of that journey. I love romance and to see one unfolding right before your eyes, albeit with two particularly dense boys, it is easy to see how quickly Eden and the girls get caught up in their fantasies, and ignore Mason and Jamie’s feelings. I do not condone their behaviour, but it does not come from a place of hate or homophobia; rather, they temporarily forget that Mason and Jamie are real people, not characters on screen or in fan art, and so insert themselves in Mason and Jamie’s narrative. I have no doubt that if I were in high school today, I would have felt welcome amongst the yaoi and slash girls.
Jamie is an interesting protagonist. There are a few times I became exasperated by him, but I generally enjoy reading about him and understanding his thought process. Another reason many people did not enjoy this novel is because Jamie could be an annoying character who questions every decision he makes. While there were times that did get quite dry, I do not see this as an annoying trait. Unless one is in the closet, they have no idea how anxious and apprehensive it can make you. Of course Jamie would be questioning every decision he makes: he is terrified that someone might guess his secret! I did, however, agree with the point that Jamie can sometimes come across as insensitive to women. I wouldn’t call him sexist – he is just very naïve when it came to girls and a little silly with the few mentions of “girl cooties.” Come on, Tregay.
I did love the development of Jamie and Mason’s friendship. It is touching, heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. I have read a few friends-to-lovers stories, but I truly believe Fan Art is perhaps one of the greatest.
Fan Art is an adorable and hilarious coming-of-age story about the ups and downs of love and finding oneself. If you love YA LGBTQI+ fiction, don’t miss out on this sweet story. I, for one, am dying for a sequel and I hope Tregay delivers.