Julian Winters’ debut is everything I’ve been anticipating and more. Queer cast? Check. Complex friendships? Check. Interesting lead that stirred my emotions? Check. Whether you go in because you want to support #ownvoices work, or if you’re a sports romance fan, you’ll love Running with Lions.
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.Goodreads
Everything about Running with Lions intrigued me when I found out about it. An #ownvoices author is something I appreciate and look for so much especially in YA that deal with LGBT+ issues. In this case, the main character Sebastian is a bisexual soccer player who goes to summer camp and so the shenanigans of one captain-to-be and the kids/teammates he can’t help but worry about begin.
From the first page, you’ll hear Sebastian’s voice. He’s a compassionate guy. He cares so much about soccer, his mom, his best friends Mason and Willy and the team he calls his own little family. However, Sebastian’s thrown into a little problem when one Emir Shah shows up at camp. You see, Emir is the odd one out of all those people who know Sebastian and adore him (who’d blame them, he’s an angel). Because years ago, Emir and Sebastian were thick as thieves but their friendship got stagnant when Emir had to go back to the UK when something came up in his family. That meant new friends for Sebastian and a new found love for soccer. Of course, this also meant that Emir and Sebastian’s friendship was practically nil when Emit came back.
I adored everything that Running With Lions dealt with. Changing friendships, that emptiness in friendship that leads to a lot of hurt feelings, and of course, the irrepressible anger. Emir was everything teenage me would have fallen for. Kind of sad and a whole lot of angry over losing his best friend? Check. Wanting nothing more than to impress his father although he’s too cool to try? Check. Being grumpy and kind of a jerk with the biggest heart? Check. Pakistani-British, with an accent and an accompanying Bad Boy aura? Check. I mean, he’s catnip to Sebastian.
It’s not surprise that the two have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to their lives. That means morning training sessions because no way is Sebastian going to let Emir struggle with soccer and potentially ruin the team’s chance at success. He really wants Emir to be proud of himself. God, just writing down that sentence made a fresh wave of love wash over me for Sebastian.
There’s no shortage of teenage drama, spats and make outs in Running with Lions and Julian Winters delivers the perfect summer camp soccer romance to grab everyone’s attention. So, if you’re looking for something with heart, joy, complicated hormonal stuff and boys falling in love one morning wake up alarm at a time, then you need this book.
Personally, reading Emir’s representation of being a gay Muslim South Asian boy who practiced his faith and was supported by his family was such a huge joy for me. I found myself wishing Julian Winters had written my own narrative. This book is a gift to all religious queer kids and especially Muslim brown kids.
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