The seventeen-year-old narrators of Social Intercourse, the new YA novel by Nashville writer Greg Howard, have almost nothing in common—nothing obvious, at least. Beckett Gaines—artsy, snarky, and somewhat of an outsider at school—never became acquainted with the inside of a closet: “I swear, I probably came out of my mom’s vagina wearing a tiara, swaddled in a rainbow flag, and belting out ‘It’s Raining Men’ at the top of my gay baby lungs,” he says. Meanwhile, Jaxon Parker is a teen star: popular, good-looking, and quarterback of his South Carolina high school’s football team.
The boys were once friendly, but Beck now resents Jax for failing to defend him to the jocks who teased him for being gay in junior high—a failure that seems like nothing less than a betrayal given that Jax himself was adopted at seven by two lesbians.
Beckett has spent the last two years tending to his father, Roger, after his mother abandoned them both. When his father regains a sense of equilibrium, Beck is finally free to redirect his efforts to more teen-appropriate pursuits, like obsessing about finding a boyfriend. One night he gives his dad a flimsy excuse and heads out to meet someone he met on Bangr (“a hookup app for horny gays”), though with misgivings: “If I’d known losing my virginity would be so nerve-racking, I would’ve stayed home and watched The Golden Girls marathon with my dad. That’s some quality father-son time I’m missing right there. He even made a cheesecake.”
In Golden Girls taxonomy, Beckett is a total Dorothy: “cranky, snarky, and a bit bossy,” he says. “Or to use Dad’s word, ‘bitchy.’ I prefer ‘responsible’ and ‘pragmatic.’ Besides, someone’s got to be the Dorothy. She’s the glue.” Roger is the Rose of their family—sweet and lovable and a little dim. This Rose, it turns out, has secret plans of his own. When Beckett comes home earlier than expected, he finds Roger in flagrante with Tracee, one of Jaxon Parker’s moms.
Tracee has asked for a separation from JoJo, and Jaxon—a survivor of intense early trauma in the foster-care system—is desperate for his beloved parents to reunite and preserve the stability he depends on so much. But Tracee and Roger’s new relationship threatens to dash his hopes and break JoJo’s heart. For his part, Beckett can’t stand the thought that his father might be abandoned again if Tracee decides to return to her marriage. The two boys form an uneasy alliance, plotting to break up their parents using any means necessary.
Jaxon doesn’t understand why Beckett dislikes him so much-he, after all, was never one of the jocks who bullied him for being different. Beckett has no interest in chasing straight boys and can’t understand why he gets butterflies every time he and Jaxon are together. The Great Jaxon Parker, as Beck derisively refers to him, doesn’t have a gay bone in his body. Right?
Jaxon must learn to make sense of his own insecurities and abandonment issues before he can understand how they have contributed to his cowardly tendency to blend into the herd, even as his friends, family, and values demand defending. And Beckett, ever the Dorothy, has a lot to learn about the unpredictable and complicated impulses that animate those around him. Raunchy, unfiltered, and genuinely sweet, Social Intercourse is a satisfying, heartwarming, and truly up-to-the-minute teen romance.
Kathryn Justice Leache lives Memphis, her hometown. Her life among books has included work as a librarian and stints as a bookseller at Square Books and The Booksellers at Laurelwood. She is currently a bookseller at Novel., an independent bookstore in Memphis.