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Joel Shoemaker
bacon grief
Charlie, a musical-theatre nerd with deep appreciation for sprinkle-topped ice creams and other snack foods, is active in his church and comes from a family who loves and appreciates him for exactly who he is, purple pants and all. Tim, a lover of crinkle-cut pickles, black olives and other forgivably-disgusting crudités, belongs to a conservative Christian pastor and devout mother who move to the rural town to staff a small church that, predictably, holds little place for Tim. After meeting online and given the green light to attend a youth group at another church, Tim and Charlie become fast friends with more and more in common. When they consider more than friendship, Tim is faced with his reality and the choice to reconcile faith and sexuality or walk away from it all.

Two devoutly religious teenage boys fall in love and struggle to find acceptance in this YA coming-out novel.

Charlie is a 16-year-old kid in a small Illinois town who loves theater and is gravitating from Roman Catholicism to a Baptist youth group. Tim is the son of the new pastor at Calvary Baptist Church and a student at Charlie’s high school; the two meet online and bond despite having opposing opinions on ice cream sprinkles and cargo shorts. Tim invites Charlie to church, where they weather a nosy parishioner. Charlie invites Tim to drama club; the two get in a car crash on their way to a bowling alley (with no injuries); and it seems as if they have a sunny future being “in love with Jesus and in love with each other.” Unfortunately, they are inhibited by the difficulties of making their relationship public. Charlie has an easier time of it: He comes out to a friend and his sympathetic drama teacher, neither of whom seems surprised by the news. But Tim is more furtive, having already been forced into therapy for his inclinations by his parents, and freaks out when Charlie holds his hand in drama club. It seems as if the only thing holding their relationship together is a small voice they hear in their hearts telling them that God accepts them. Shoemaker makes his characters’ religiosity and gay sexuality equally central—and harmonious—parts of their personalities, treating them seriously but in a usually lighthearted tone. He crafts complex, convincing characters and fleshes them out in supple prose and spot-on dialogue that’s split between awkward adolescent self-consciousness—“Okay, so I want to say something dumb but, it’s just that, I kind of almost maybe more than like you,” says Tim—and more knowing, adult reflections. (“Mother will love it and she will cry,’ Charlie muses about his bit part in a school play, “and she will bring me flowers and she will cry, and she will hug me afterwards like seventeen relatives suddenly died and she is so pleased that I was not among them and she will cry.”) Readers will root for Charlie and Tim to find their way through the thicket of anxieties and droll snark to happiness.

A wry, beguiling romance that’s passionate about faith and love.