“Here, in my dreams, we love whom we love,
blinded not by the color of their skin,
worried not by the details of their gender,
nor about the book in which they find their god.”
Sarah Tregay’s Fan Art is a hopeful and charming coming-of-age YA novel about the experiences of first love, coming out, and those last, nerve-wracking days of high school that lead to an uncertain future. Readers of all ages will be able to connect with this novel and the characters, no matter their sexuality.
The novel follows Jamie Peterson, a seventeen year-old closeted boy who is about to graduate from high school with one major problem: he is in love with his straight best friend, Mason. As hard as Jamie tries to keep his sexuality a secret, it seems as though everyone already knows, particularly the slash fan girls in his art class who are determined to help Jamie get together with Mason. But Jamie is terrified that if he confesses his feelings to Mason, he will be rejected and lose Mason’s friendship altogether. While unsuccessfully trying to supress his feelings for Mason, Jamie also has to contend with the annoying editors of the school magazine that don’t want to feature a comic about homosexual characters, a comic that has come to mean so much to Jamie. Jamie must stand up for what he believes in and take a chance on newfound love.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this novel. Reading the reviews on Goodreads conveyed mixed feelings as half of the reviews awarded the novel 4-5 stars, while the other half only 1-2 stars. It was an incredible amount of varied opinions and, as I have always wanted to read this novel, decided that the only way I would receive my answer was to read the book myself. And I am so glad I did.
“It should be in the Bible. Thou shalt not check out thy best friend.”
Fan Art explores the delights and the troubles of friendship and what it takes for one to face their worst fear. The friendship between Jamie and Mason is so dear to both of them that they each fear the consequences of the revelation of their secrets. Friendship was the driving force of the novel; whether it be Mason’s and Jamie’s, Eden’s and Jamie’s, or even the friendship between minor characters like Broadie and Kellen, friendship is depicted as the most important aspect of life and something that ties people together.
I adored the inclusion of the short backstory to the “I love you, man” and what that conveys to the reader. In the novel, a teenage boy (years ago) passed away in a car accident and his friends, when questioned about the impact of his death on live T.V. said, “I love you, man,” which has become the school’s unofficial friendship call among young men. I love that. I love that, in the book, teenage boys feel no fear or anguish of homophobia from telling other males “I love you, man.” It is a simple way to express friendship and I wish it were that easy for teenage boys to do that in real life.
The novel also depicts the pressure and increase of boundaries and how other people’s beliefs and ideas can alter or even impede your own. Jamie is comfortable in the closet; only his parents know he is gay, or so he thinks. Most of the school suspects Jamie’s true orientation and many of the girls in his art class are shipping him with Mason. I know from reading other reviews that this particular issue is what many people took umbrage with: the fact that the girls ignored Jamie’s personal feelings and drew fan art of him and Mason, as well as writing slash fiction about them. The results of their actions forces Jamie to not only be very uncomfortable, but face things he is nowhere near ready to. Deciding when to come out of the closet is an incredibly personal issue and the fact that many characters were attempting to coerce Jamie to do so before he is ready is unconscionable and unfair. I completely agree with many other reviewers on that point, but I do also understand the opposing side, too.
“My nose brushes his and our lips meet in what feels like– like not slow motion– but every moment in my life and the lack of time all together.”
From the ages of 14 to 18, I was a slash fan. Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest. I loved reading original online slash fiction and eventually discovered the pleasures of m/m fiction in proper published form, a love that has only developed further to this day. I never read fanfiction, though; for some reason it felt wrong to read anything that was not canon, but I did look at a lot of fan art. Today I read LGBTQI+ YA fiction, but still read slash fiction from old and beloved m/m authors like KJ Charles, Ava March and Joanna Chambers. (I will leave a list of recs at the bottom of this review for anyone interested in delving into m/m fiction but has no idea where to find well-written, character-driven stories. I’ll admit, there is a lot of crap out there).
Returning from that little tangent, I understand how the girls in the novel, particularly Eden, desire a happy ending for Mason and Jamie and can’t help but want to be a part of that journey. I love romance and to see one unfolding right before your eyes, albeit with two particularly dense boys, it is easy to see how quickly Eden and the girls get caught up in their fantasies, and ignore Mason and Jamie’s feelings. I do not condone their behaviour, but it does not come from a place of hate or homophobia; rather, they temporarily forget that Mason and Jamie are real people, not characters on screen or in fan art, and so insert themselves in Mason and Jamie’s narrative. I have no doubt that if I were in high school today, I would have felt welcome amongst the yaoi and slash girls.
Jamie is an interesting protagonist. There are a few times I became exasperated by him, but I generally enjoy reading about him and understanding his thought process. Another reason many people did not enjoy this novel is because Jamie could be an annoying character who questions every decision he makes. While there were times that did get quite dry, I do not see this as an annoying trait. Unless one is in the closet, they have no idea how anxious and apprehensive it can make you. Of course Jamie would be questioning every decision he makes: he is terrified that someone might guess his secret! I did, however, agree with the point that Jamie can sometimes come across as insensitive to women. I wouldn’t call him sexist – he is just very naïve when it came to girls and a little silly with the few mentions of “girl cooties.” Come on, Tregay.
I did love the development of Jamie and Mason’s friendship. It is touching, heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. I have read a few friends-to-lovers stories, but I truly believe Fan Art is perhaps one of the greatest.
Fan Art is an adorable and hilarious coming-of-age story about the ups and downs of love and finding oneself. If you love YA LGBTQI+ fiction, don’t miss out on this sweet story. I, for one, am dying for a sequel and I hope Tregay delivers.
- Basically anything by K.J. Charles, but I would start with her Society of Gentleman series which is rich in accurate British history as well as appropriate slang and language. The series begins with the novella The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh (5 stars) which is beyond incredible, and then continues with: A Fashionable Indulgence (4 stars), A Seditious Affair (5+ stars) and concludes with A Gentleman’s Position (4.5 stars).
- Once you have finished that series, you must read Charles’ amazing Think of England (5 stars). It is one of her lesser known works, but by far one of her best. Then there is her first series A Charm of Magpies, which is also ripe with history, but also includes magic! I love the romantic interests in this series and you will, too. Book order: The Magpie Lord (4 stars), A Case of Possession (4.5 stars), and Flight of Magpies (4.5 stars). There are also a bunch of short stories in between each main novel, and a tie-in novel featuring a minor character from the original series called Jackdaw (4.5 stars).
- K.J. Charles has a bunch of other novels and is always releasing new m/m books, so you will never not have enough novels to read. 😀
- Joanna Chambers‘ Enlightenment series is truly a work of wonder and romance. Like K.J. Charles, the series is set in Georgian England, but this time in Scotland and I have already sold you. Nothing sexier than a Scot. Book order: Provoked (4.5 stars), Beguiled (5 stars) and Enlightened (5 stars). There is also a short story called Seasons Pass (4 stars) and a tie-in novel about a minor character from the original series called Unnatural (4.5 stars).
- Basically anything by Megan Derr (she has written over 30 novels and has a lot of free content on her website, too – seriously, a lot). Derr is very imaginative and each series is considered high fantasy. I highly, highly, highly recommend her Kria series. It is an amazing fantasy world with incredible world-building and features, perhaps, the best slow-burn I have ever read in my life (in book 1). Each book features different characters. Book order: Prisoner (5+ stars), Bound (4.5 stars) and The Bastard Prince (4.5 stars). There are also heaps of short stories on her site that you can read for free.
- Other notable favourites from Megan Derr: Deceived series (book 1 is my favourite), Missing Butterfly series, Princes of the Blood trilogy and Jewel Bonds trilogy. I haven’t read her Dance with the Devil series, but I have heard amazing things about it.
- Anything by Ava March. Fun fact: March was the first author I had ever read when I first fell in love with this genre. My favourite series is the Bound trilogy: Bound by Deception (4.5 stars), Bound to Him (5 stars) and Bound Forever (5 stars). Oliver and Vincent are one of my first ever OTPs and will always have a special place in my heart. All of her other 3 book series (except for London Legal) feature different characters in each novel – the Brook Street series: Thief (4.5 stars), Fortune Hunter (4.5 stars) and Rogues (5 stars and my fave). Gambling on Love series: All in With the Duke (4.5 stars), Sharp Love (4 stars), and Viscount’s Wager (4.5 stars). London Legal series: Convincing Arthur (4 stars), Convincing Leopold (4.5 stars) and Convincing the Secretary (4 stars). She also has a whole bunch more, these are just my favourites.
- Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville (5+ stars). An amazing slow-burn with a character-driven plot. There are also 4 short stories and the author has been promising a sequel for years, which I sadly don’t think we will ever get. Luckily, the novel does not end on a cliffhanger so reading this book will not anger you.
- M.L. Rhodes has a lot of m/m works, but I have only read a few which I adored. The Always series: Never Let Go (4.5 stars) and Hearts and Bones (4.5 stars). (Warning: the second book can be triggering: kidnapping, suggested rape & threats & murder, etc. If it makes you feel better, neither of the love interests do this to each other – this ain’t Fifty Shades.) She has also said she is working on a third book, but I haven’t heard anything in years :'(. Also highly, highly recommend her standalone novel Falling (5 stars). It’s a story about magic with incredible world-building set in modern America. Just superb.
- The Laird’s Forbidden Lover by Amelia C. Gormley. Set in medieval Scotland and incredibly well written. (4 stars)
- The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon (4.5 stars). Sensing a pattern with historical novels here. Plot-driven and amazingly well-written. Dee and Devon have also written many novels together as well as apart, but this is the only one I have read.
- The Crofton Chronicles by Rebecca Cohen features cross-dressing in the Elizabethan era! Book order: The Actor and the Earl (4 stars), Duty to the Crown (4.5 stars) and Forever Hold His Peace. I haven’t given the last book a rating because I didn’t know it existed until just now! I always thought the second book was the last one because it ended so satisfactorily – no cliffhangers – but I’m excited to read the conclusion now!
- Starfighter series by Hamlet Machine. This is an ongoing online comic and is a space opera. It is incredible so far. I won’t rate it as the series is still progressing, but Hamlet regularly updates the comic and has even created a game, too! Check it out here. This is the only online slash fic I am recommending as all of my other favourites were abandoned years ago 😥
- And lastly, the Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk. I personally haven’t read this series, but I have several friends who have and adored it. It is viewed as one of the best m/m series out there and I will eventually get around to reading it.