“He liked this: being close, touching, breathing in unison with this beautiful man.”
In a word: Read the thing. This one was a bit different, with the whole thing taking place during a singing competition, the fictional Sing UK (which I’m assuming is something like American Idol). Our two romantic leads, Corey and Angel, start off competing against each other but then end up competing with each other (along with three other men). The story doesn’t really go into too much detail about the show and how it all works, even the details of living a celebrity lifestyle are brushed over for the most part, and is more about the relationship between Corey and Angel and the other relationships they form along the way. The story had some light-ish angst, but it was pretty sweet for the most part. An extra bonus, along with the love story, was also seeing five strangers coming together as friends and watching those relationships develop. Also, one of the romantic leads is on the autism spectrum, and that’s not something we see enough of.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Premise: This entire story takes place (mostly) behind the scenes of a reality TV talent show called Sing UK (which I’m pretty sure is fictional). Corey, Angel, and three other complete strangers have all failed their auditions to get on the show. However, they are given one more shot when it’s decided that they can all continue on if they do it as a 5-man boy band. Thus, these five strangers, with different personalities and ambitions, must come together as a cohesive unit, as the band Wildcard, to win the competition and achieve their goals. It’s mainly a story about the romance between Corey and Angel, but it’s also a story about an underdog team that has to face many obstacles on its way to stardom.
The Couple: Corey Dixon and Reuben “Angel” Jacobs are two complete strangers auditioning for spots on the same TV talent show, Sing UK. They first see each other in the line-up while they wait their turn to perform, but they only meet for the first time when, after failing their auditions, they are given the option to continue in the competition as part of a 5-man band with three other strangers. The two of them are described pretty thoroughly in the story, as they both exist in a world where looks are very important. Corey has a stereotypical ‘rocker’ kind of look, with an all black wardrobe, lip piercing, and longish hair. Angel has developed his look over the years to the point where it’s kind of his trademark: styled dyed white-blond hair, flowy white shirts and tight jeans, and makeup. Angel’s attitude and appearance make it near impossible for him to hide the fact that he’s gay, while Corey’s appearance makes it easy, not that either of them are trying to hide it one way or the other. One thing that Corey is hiding, however, is the fact that he has autism. By this point, it’s easy for Corey to pass as neurotypical, if a bit weird. No one in his new circle even figures it out until he mentions it. Corey and Angel develop a deep bond quite quickly, but it doesn’t become romantic right away. For Corey, who has trouble with his emotions, has never fallen in love so this is a real learning experience. The two of them are very sweet together, leaning on each other for comfort and support. Neither of them know whether their closeness is because of their forced proximity or something else, but their feelings are real and the both of them are very determined to be together to see where this can take them.
The Band: One of the things I really enjoyed was the relationship between the guys in the band. Corey and Angel’s relationship was a given, but they also made friends with the three other guys they got put with. And the other three even formed relationships with each other. These are five different men thrown together by chance but who still managed to develop seemingly lasting bonds. The three other members of Wildcard are, in no particular order, DK, Scott, and Toby. The three of them each have a distinct personality trait to help tell them apart (they’re good guys, but not really the most developed). DK, which is a nickname because his real name has too many K’s in it, is the weepy one who is desperate to marry for love. Scott is the one who swears a lot, like pretty much every sentence he says has a swear word in it. Toby is the angry one and, surprisingly, gets into less fights than one would think (although he did threaten one of the judges). I really enjoyed these guys when they showed up, mostly because they all became very good friends of the sort I haven’t really seen in fiction, especially among grown men characters. DK cries at the drop of a hat but, beyond some light teasing, the other guys usually rally around him when he gets emotional. Toby and Scott also become best friends and are together a lot. They’re all really good guys, especially in the way that they don’t give Angel and Corey shit about autism or being gay (which is a pretty low bar to set, but still). These guys all started out as strangers, and didn’t really like each other at first, but the more time they spent together the closer they all got. They were pretty much all best friends by the end. And I’m pretty sure there were no ‘no-homo’ jokes from any of them, thankfully.
The Side Characters: This book has quite a few side characters, though they don’t all get enough screen time for much personality or development, and I don’t remember a lot of their names. Also, aside from some glimpses of Corey and Angel’s families (a brief appearance of Corey’s Aunt Mim, who raised him basically since day 1, and Angel’s somewhat disapproving father and older brothers), they’re all part of the Sing UK world. Sing UK has three judges, one whose name escapes me now (he didn’t really do anything), Bruiser Bryant, and Brianna. Bruiser is godfather to one of the other contestants on the show, Hannah Isaacs, who is the most prominent contestant in the story after the Wildcard boys. Hannah is the daughter of a famous beloved rock star who died before she was born, and I think she’s grown up her whole life in the public eye, so she knows how to play the game. Hannah kinda surprised me because, in the beginning, it seemed like she had a bit of a thing for Corey and wasn’t getting the hint that Corey wanted nothing to do with her. The more we see of Hannah the more we see that that’s not the case, and that there’s definitely more to her than just a pretty face. The same sort of thing happens with Brianna, the judge that’s meant to be the ‘mentor’ of all the bands in the competition. She’s really good at playing up for the crowds, and at first I don’t think we’re meant to think much of her beyond ‘team manager’. And then it turns out she’s complete homophobic trash and mostly a bitch on top of that. The things she says and does makes her into a bit of a stereotype, but I’ll admit that it was something I hadn’t seen coming, and she ends up being a bigger part of the plot than I thought she was going to be (and I, and the boys, ended up hating her more than I thought I would). The other side characters are the other contestants on the show; and there are several of them and some of them are barely in the story so it’s hard to keep their names straight. Hannah shows up a lot, and then there’s Leo, and a few other singles acts that aren’t as noteworthy aside from another one (Jim? I think his name is, or possibly James) who gets knocked out early and is a bit butthurt about it for a bit before he completely disappears from the story. I think there are two or three other bands aside from Wildcard, but the only one I remember is Diva Babes, an all-girl group, and that’s only because Scott and Toby keep following them around trying to get with the girls.
The Sex: It took such a long time for any sex scenes to actually happen that I didn’t think we were going to get anything (aside from clothed frotting and heated make out sessions). There were two scenes near the end, though. We don’t really get much information on Angel’s past relationships (that I can remember), but Corey comes into it pretty much a virgin, though that’s not really made a big deal of. The scenes themselves are fairly standard, with a 69 in one and anal in the other, but they’re sweet scenes because Corey and Angel are sweet together. The scenes are written just barely explicit with no real dirty talk or insanely detailed descriptions.
The Writing: I liked the writing in this one. It flowed pretty well and, aside from a few editing mistakes, it was pretty good. Although I did think the epilogue was a bit too perfect for my liking. I also liked the way Corey’s character was written. He’s an autistic man and he wasn’t written as a stereotype. One thing I liked about that is that we weren’t beaten over the head with the fact that he was autistic; the signs were there and it was a lot of showing instead of telling, so that was a plus. (Also he wasn’t automatically written as being overly child-like.) The fact that it didn’t cause any drama with the relationship building was another plus. The ‘rules’ and the world-building surrounding the singing competition and the whole TV business were really well-done, I felt. The whole plot surrounding the competition itself wasn’t as interesting to me as what was going on behind the scenes concerning the characters and their interactions and developing relationships, but that’s most likely less to do with the writing and more to do with personal preferences (also the fact that it’s probably difficult to get really into a singing contest when you’re reading it and can’t hear or see the actual acts).
[Boy Banned was published May 27, 2016, by Love Lane Books, it is available both in print and as an ebook]