Written in verse, author Billy Merrell uses the classic combination of romance and poetry to explore LGBTQIA culture and identity. Character rather than plot-focused, Vanilla follows the perspectives of three high-schoolers, Angel/Clown, Vanilla, and Hunter. The author’s vivid poetry offers an uncensored snapshot of queer students’ lives, as they seek to map the emotional connections between sex and love.— Zoe S., Tattered Cover Teen Advisory Board member
I was a bit skeptical about this book at first, mostly due to the format (more poetry than prose) and the seemingly surface-level conflict described in the blurb (Hunter wants to start having sex and his boyfriend Vanilla doesn’t--GASP!). But realistic LGBTQIA+ representation is kind of my kink, so I gave it a shot. And let me just say, I am ridiculously glad I did. This book tugs at the heart strings like a well-rosined bow, and I found myself re-reading certain excerpts over and over again until even the imprints on my eyelids left me in awe. Merrell explores the struggles of finding oneself when you’ve been tied to another for so long you don’t know where that line is anymore, and he expertly portrays what it’s like to grow up “on the queer side of queer”. As the characters set out to find themselves, I found a bit of myself as well, feeling my heart break again and again and then heal into new shapes. I recommend this to anyone with a love of deep words or a collection of deep wounds—because what more can you ask of a book than to turn your soul into art?— Cameron B., Tattered Cover Teen Advisory Board member
Vanilla is a coming of age novel about two boyfriends who thought they would stay together forever, until conflict of interest steps in the way. Hunter wishes to take their relationship to the next step, but Vanilla is not so sure. The two start to understand more about themselves and how they each define love. Written in poems, this book is not only representative of homosexuality, but also a much broader range of the spectrum. Merrell’s writing is heartbreakingly beautiful and will, no doubt, help teens of all ages become confident of their own sexuality.— Hope F., Tattered Cover Teen Advisory Board
Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade.
They came out together,
navigated middle school together,
and became that couple in high school
that everyone always sees as a couple.
There are complications and confusions, for sure.
But most of all,
they love each other.
As high school goes, though,
and as their relationship deepens,
some cracks begin to show.
Hunter thinks they should be having sex.
Vanilla isn't so sure.
Hunter doesn't mind hanging out with loud, obnoxious friends.
Vanilla would rather avoid them.
If they're becoming different people,
can they be the same couple?
Falling in love is hard.
Staying in love is harder.
About the Author
Billy Merrell is the author of Talking in the Dark, a poetry memoir published when he was twenty-one, and is the co-editor (with David Levithan) of The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award. Merrell is also a contributor to the New York Times-bestselling series Spirit Animals, and has published fiction, poetry, and translations in various journals and anthologies. Born in 1982, he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and received his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his husband, author Nico Medina.