Nonbinary merpeople on a magical journey of self-discovery meets teen swim team relationship drama, Jason June (author of Jay’s Gay Agenda) has delivered a queer rom-com that’s, well, okay… silly and cheesy and a bit daft, but also adorable AF.
Crest is about to start they’re Journey, a tradition for teen merfolk (mer are nonbinary, mermaid and merman are human concepts), where they come to land and can’t return to the Blue until they have helped their human. Crest can’t wait to get it over and done with. Gifted with a new name (Ross), legs and a magical cabin, Crest finds a heartbroken human lifeguard named Sean and decides his Journey is all about helping mend Sean’s heart and getting him back with his ex-boyfriend. The one thing Crest/Ross won’t do, is let his growing attraction to Sean get in the way of his mission to return home.
Told as a dual narrative, alternating between Ross’s POV and Sean’s, Out of the Blue starts off in pure rom-com territory with Sean not seeing the great guy in front of him as he chases Dominic, the asshole who dumped him. Meanwhile Ross is so focused on their mission they don’t understand the human feelings they get when they’re close to Sean. Cue some appropriately fish-out-of-water scenarios that throw the two of them together and they start ‘fake dating’ to make the ex jealous…
Look, it’s not hard to see the plot developments a million miles off and while June throws some fun complications in along the way, it’s a rom-com that does what it says on the tin. Think Splash, mixed with the charm of Luca and the horny teen angst of that episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer where Xander put on speedos.
What June does that elevates the story, is take the time to deconstruct some questionable rom-com tropes and flip them on their heads. Kavya, Sean’s sassy best friend, goes out of her way to point out that she’s not merely the sassy best friend, she has her own shit going on and doesn’t have time for Sean’s problems 24/7. As Sean tries to teach Ross the ways of human rom-coms so they can make Dominic jealous, Ross’s fresh perspective sees the genre as all a bit toxic and manipulative. It keeps the narrative from getting stale and as a book for YA/teen readers, Out of the Blue gives us a pretty clear and healthy way to deal with the swirl of emotions that is young love and dating. As the book reaches its climax and inevitable Sliding Doors/will they won’t they?/what will they choose? moment, June is ready with one more rug pull.
Yes, it does mean that June is having their cake and eating it too. Playing up the rom-com while critiquing the rom-com but still behaving like a rom-com at the same time. And you know what, I’m fine with that. I just wish they’d spent a bit more time exploring the world from Kavya’s point-of-view, which as the story progresses, turns out to be more nuanced and interesting than Sean or Ross’s dilemmas.
It’s nice too, that neither Sean nor Ross feel like particularly typical romantic leads. Sean is aware that he doesn’t have the body type of most swimmers, but excels anyway, and Ross takes time to understand how to present the gender they feel most comfortable with. Ross’s naivety never comes off as stupidity, and Sean’s realization that his pursuit of Dominic probably isn’t healthy for anyone involved is nicely illustrated.
Out of the Blue is a cute, funny, fantastical queer tale that wouldn’t be out-of-place in your Netflix cue next to all the other loved up YA adaptations. Is it a bit silly? Sure. But it’s a cheerfully light distraction to brighten up your day. Dive in!
By Chad Armstrong
Out of the Blue is published by HarperTeen on May 31st. Pre-order now from you local independent bookseller or the usual online outlets.
Thanks to NetGalley and HarperTeen for an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.