For today’s recommendation post, we’ll be focusing in contemporaries narrated by straight male characters. I know this sounds like a nightmare at first. At least for me, who’s allergic to straight teenage boys. But they may just restore your faith in their kind, because these books are *actually* good!
I know for most people who are reading this post, straight teenage boys are the last people they expect to relate with. But even if relatability-wise, these books may not be the best, they still offer enough I do feel like more people should read them.
(I really need to read more books narrated by straight Asian male characters, so if you have any recommendations, let me know!)
NOT SO PURE AND SIMPLE
This is a very underrated YA 2020 release and centers around our main character, Del, who decides to join the purity pledge at his church in order to get closer to the girl he likes. This girl has never been “available”, so now that she’s finally single, Del decides to make a move.
There’s a lot to like about this book. First, it talks a lot about the idea of “nice guy”. Del believes that, because he’s not a fuckboy and is actually respectful and nice, he should be rewarded by his crush’s immediate requited love. And that mindset is toxic AF, not to mention deeply mysognistic. Even though Del starts as a very unlikeable character, the book puts him in the center of the discussion about toxic masculinity and double-standard expectations and his growth is remarkable.
It’s also interesting because the novel will talk a lot about sex education. Del is the only one in the purity pledge allowed to take sex ed classes at his school, so he ends up taking a lot of questions from the purity pledgers to his sex-ed teacher and the answers back. I am always here for more sex-positive and realistic conversations in books, and, like the book praises, having healthy and productive discussions is a ton more effective than avoiding the subject.
This book tackles so much, while being entertaining and hilarious, so really, props to this author!
Trigger warnings: violence, racism, police brutality, death of a parent
In this dual perspective novel, we get to know Rashad: who’s a victim of police brutality and Quinn, who witnesses it. Even though both of these characters attend the same school, their lives had never intertwined until that moment. It’s really interesting breaking down the similarities and differences between these two.
Both perspectives add something unique to the story. When we follow Rashad, we really get to see the consequences of a police brutality episode in someone’s life and in that person’s family. It is also nice seeing the contrast in Rashad’s family members: his brother is a loud advocate for black people’s rights, whereas his dad shields himself from any violence by also rejecting his culture. It is amazing how the author develops both of them, as well as Rashad’s character.
Quinn’s perspective is just as complicated. His will definitely touch more on activism and standing up for what’s right, even when it’s hard. Quinn is definitely written to be a bit unlikeable, but I could actually understand where he was coming from and ultimately appreciate his growth even more because of where he starts the book at.
This discussion of privilege was so well done that even though the first two chapters may sound very “teenage-boy-like”, I do encourage you to push through because it does get a lot better.
Trigger warnings: domestic abuse with brief mentions of sexual abuse, death of a parent, grief, bullying.
This is another dual perspective novel, but will deal with completely different topics from the previous one. In A List of Cages, we’re talking about foster system, domestic abuse and found families. It’s a very hard-hiting, but ultimately hopeful story.
Adam and Julian used to be foster brothers, until Julian moves out with his uncle. After that, the two barely see each other, until they end up being reunited at school – Julian being a freshman and Adam a senior. They start hanging out a lot more and I absolutely love the development of their friendship, as well as how Julian is essentially adopted by Adam’s friend group.
Both perspectives are equally strong. Julian’s is a lot more emotional, as he’s such a young boy who’s been through a lot. Not only the death of his parents is an event he’s still mourning, but the domestic abuse also makes him very vulnerable. I loved how the author created his voice, because he does sound a lot younger than Adam – which he is -, but I also think has to do with the fact that the trauma has definitely affected the way he matures.
As for Adam’s, his perspective is a lot more hopeful, because that’s who he is. He’s a total human labrador, who makes friends with absolutely everyone. He also has ADHD, which was nice to see being worked out on page.
I shall not shut up about Heretics Anonymous until I know more people are actually reading this book.
Following Michael, an atheist going to a catholic school, Heretics Anonymous will talk about a lot more than just religion. In his school, Michael ends up joining this underground group, the Heretics Anonymous, with other people who do not 100% align with the beliefs of their catholic school.
Here’s a small list of things to love about this book:
- SOUTH-AMERICAN REP! Lucy, our main’s love interest, is Colombian-American and a badass feminist.
- Diverse cast of supportive characters.
- Romance descriptions from a male character’s POV that didn’t make me uncomfortable at all? Absolutely unheard of.
- Discussions of religion, beliefs and skepticism all done in a very respectful way.
- Amazing writing.
- Our main character being challenged for being an ass about his “1st-world-problems”, but also acknowledged that his problems are valid because they’re his.
- Older brother/little sister relationship to compensate for his jerk of a father.
Even though I have no actual complicated relationship with religion and it’s not a topic I tend to think about often, I found this one to be so deeply entertaining and real. And Michael was too much of a great narrator, even if annoying at times.
Opposite of Always is a contemporary with sprinkles of magical realism, as it talks about time-travel. Our main character Jack meets Kate at a party and they hit off right from the start. Until Kate dies and that throws Jack on a time-loop to the night where they first met, in hopes that he’ll be able to save her.
I will admit I did not like the ending of this book, but I still wanted to recommend for the other layers that I feel like are worth reading it for.
Jack and Kate have such great banter and all the dialogues in this book are the perfect amount of hilarious. I loved seeing his friend group and how complicated things get, depending which choices Jack makes. They were equally fleshed out and amazing. His relationship with his parents was also the sweetest – they had so much love and trust in each other, but also knew when Jack needed his time to cope by himself.
It’s also nice seeing an entirely non-white cast, but not having the book necessarily focus on it, but having these characters simply *exist* and be black, and not be defined by that at all.
Again, if you guys have any book recommendations for Asian male characters, please let me know! And if you have read any of these books, tell me how you like them down in the comments!