A Taiwanese American teen stumbles through the confusions of choosing a college, interpreting sexual interest from young men and asserting her desires in this refreshingly sex-positive coming-of-age YA novel.
Eighteen-year-old June Chu doesn't get to choose: her parents decided she would play violin, certain colleges are off limits and her unofficial boyfriend, Rhys, must be kept a secret. When a friend claims "Rhys only wants his girlfriend tight where it counts," June feels pressured to initiate sex; Rhys rebuffs then ghosts her inexplicably. Next, June meets Brad, who flirts openly with a "glint in his eye." Brad becomes her "first official boyfriend," and June's tumultuous experience with intimacy begins.
Boys I Know by Anna Gracia is a frank story about the hypocritical and sexist expectations placed on teen girls. It recognizes that teens are sexually active even though open discussion of teen sexual life is not normalized. Gracia also shows how hard it can feel to withdraw consent: June considers asking a partner to stop when sex hurts but reminds herself, "I asked for this. It was my decision." June's cultural backdrop is poignantly prominent. Violin is never intended as her permanent pursuit; "it was just something Asian parents did." Microaggressions and other characters' questioning of Asian Americans' authenticity are also tactfully incorporated. Throughout, June's drive to choose a college for herself--not for a boy or her parents--serves as an accessible framework around which this bold debut takes place, and touts the difficulty and importance of self-reflection. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer