From debut novelist Jason June (he/him/she/her) comes the coming-of-age, sex-positive, LGBTQA+ Young Adult novel titled Jay’s Gay Agenda. Jason June, who is previously known for writing books for children and teens, matures his storytelling abilities, utilizing the YA genre to illustrate the complexities of growing up at the intersections between queerness, adulthood, and adolescence.
The novel follows Jay Collier, an 18-year-old high school senior whose life is guided by his lists, otherwise known as his “Gay Agenda.” Jay is originally from a small town in rural Washington where there aren’t any openly queer students, which leaves Jay feeling alone as he watches the rest of his peers experience their “firsts” surrounding sex and relationships.
However, the future for Jay suddenly becomes brighter when his mom gets a work promotion, resulting in Jay and his family moving from their rural town to metropolitan city Seattle. There, Jay will be able to meet other LGBTQA+ kids, be immersed in an accepting queer community, and (hopefully) meet a boy he can romantically connect with.
Once in Seattle, Jay is finally able to have friends who understand him and his identity on a deeper level. He’s also able to date a boy now that he’s not the only openly gay kid in his school anymore. However, his move to Seattle doesn’t come without difficulties. Over the course of the book, Jay must learn to balance old and new friendships, romantic prospects, and who he once was versus who he is becoming.
Jay’s Gay Agenda definitely explores coming of age using a queer lens; however, the novel still demonstrates the awkwardness of approaching adulthood that most teenagers experience. For instance, readers follow Jay as he navigates his first time dating other boys, his first time seeing a drag show, and his first time being able to cross items off his “Gay Agenda.” Though, Jay stumbles through all of these “firsts” as most teenagers do— clumsily.
And as briefly mentioned, the novel is also very sex-positive, which I appreciate, often getting candid about Jay’s budding sexual desires. Notably, because 1) he’s a teenager going through puberty and 2) he’s finally open with his sexuality and is likely experiencing a second or even new phase of adolescence now that he’s able to present to the world as his authentic self.
Jay’s “Gay Agenda” provides readers direct insight into our protagonist’s desires such as wanting to lose his virginity and having his first kiss. I value the openness in this book regarding the talks of sex as well as topics and feelings related to sex because it normalizes such conversations amongst adolescents; something that was consequently treated as a taboo when I was in high school.
At the same time, Jay’s lists reveal things much deeper such as his inner conflicts and ways he’s trying to come up with solutions to solve life’s mess. For example, how to come out to his friends and family or how to break some bad news to an old friend.
Correspondingly, one thing I noticed is the novel is candid about how romanticizing versions of your life without conflict are mere fantasies. Jay still has his struggles after moving to Seattle because hardships don’t simply disappear when you move away and try to become someone different. In some instances, new problems may even arise.
This conveys to young readers who (for whatever reason) may be experiencing the same longing Jay felt to leave home in hopes of suddenly having a better life that doing so won’t magically eradicate your struggles; again, a lesson that’s specifically important to highlight for teenagers.
Ultimately, the takeaways from this book are ones any reader, of any age, can relate to. At the same time, however, certain aspects of the story feel like an ode to the queer community. Namely, scenes like Jay’s time spent in a drag bar while a drag queen belts Tina Turner’s (iconic) song “Proud Mary.” The overt queerness of the story keeps the novel grounded and connected to what is likely the original purpose of the book’s existence.
In her reader’s note at the beginning of the novel, Jason June states, “I never thought I’d see a day where queer love and expression could be so openly celebrated.” And I have to say, I’m also more than glad to see it and definitely excited for what other quirky and fun YA stories Jason June has in store for us.
All in all, Jason June wonderfully adds to the loveable, list-obsessed, rom-com protagonist with Jay’s Gay Agenda. See: Jenny Han’s To all the Boys book series, Talia Hibbert’s Get a life, Chloe Brown, and Joya Goffney’s Excuse me while I ugly cry. The book also makes sure to add some unapologetic queerness, not just to the aforementioned rom-com niche, but to the YA genre entirely. And we’re here for it!
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