With the winners of the Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2022 due to be revealed on Wednesday 29th June, ELS library assistant Rosie revels in the colour and joy of George Lester’s shortlisted novel Boy Queen.
George Lester’s Boy Queen captures the attention right from the first look. Rachel Vale’s eye-catching cover sets the tone for the whole book – vivid, colourful, exaggerated, a celebration that paints drag queens – and the LGBTQ+ community in general – as brightly as they paint themselves.
Robin, the main character, is sympathetic from the beginning. That feeling of being on tenterhooks waiting for exam results or to hear back from universities certainly took me back to college and will be instantly recognisable to students reading this book at that incredibly anxiety-inducing time in life. For Robin, though, it all goes wrong – rejected from his dream school, with all his plans falling down around his ears and his relationship bringing him more stress than happiness – and for teenagers experiencing rejection and heartbreak for the first times, it is easy to picture themselves in his shoes. Robin has pinned all his hopes on one plan, and it falls through.
But that’s the beginning of the story. Life goes on, one door closes, but Boy Queen tells its readers there are always more to find, new passions to explore, different people to fall in love with. Robin starts the story pretty sure of his future and of himself, and when one is challenged he has to think about the other. The story shows that figuring yourself out doesn’t happen all at once, and by exploring new things you can find pieces of yourself you didn’t know existed. In drag, Robin finds not only a new passion and a new community, but a new part of himself.
The story celebrates drag as an art form – the work that goes into the makeup and costume, the dedication the routines take to perfect, and the beauty found in its diversity. No two drag acts are the same, a fact Robin learns as he tries to find his own drag persona in a room surrounded by queens of different backgrounds – his drag mentor Kaye Bye reminds him that not all drag artists are cis men – and different talents, from spoken word to dance to lip-sync. Robin does not only find a community in drag, but in everything about Entity, their local gay bar, and the description of him first walking into the club and feeling the sense of home and belonging, being safe and not only accepted but wanted for who he is, captures beautifully the importance of queer community.
Boy Queen is a coming-of-age story about pushing past fear to find your strength, your community, and yourself. Robin lets go of his fears of losing his boyfriend and being alone in order to stand up for himself and say that he deserves better. He lets go of his fear of failure to get back on stage over and over again to perform despite the times it went wrong. He lets go of his fear of being honest – with his friends, with his mum, with himself – about what he wants and who he is, to embrace his dreams and have pride in his identity.
Boy Queen is one of ten books shortlisted for the Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2022. All books are nominated, read, debated, and voted for by secondary students across Cheshire, Warrington, Halton and surrounding areas. The winners of this year’s award will be announced at Winsford Academy on Wednesday 29th June.
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