The Sky Blues Is Your Next Favorite Teen Book Turned Movie
Author: Nick Havey
June 3, 2021
The Sky Blues, from debut author Robbie Couch, is a delightful queer, young adult romance that is satisfyingly familiar without sacrificing surprise. Sky Baker, the novel’s protagonist, is a relatable and decently authentic representation of the teenage queer experience. His favorite teacher is also a de facto parental figure, he’s trying his best to avoid making a fool out of himself, and his best friend Bree is a hypercompetent teenage girl.
Outside of being thrown out of his mother’s house on Christmas for coming out and moving into Bree’s much more receptive home, things seem to be going pretty well for Sky in his close-knit, gossipy Michigan town. That is until an Islamophobic, homophobic hacked yearbook email blast reveals his plans to ask his crush, Ali, to prom. His promposal designs leaked a month before the big ask, Sky and his friends launch a campaign to identify who sent the email blast—they have a good idea that, as a reader, feels too good to be true—and prove that you really can be gay for anything these days, in the best way. Teenage drama and an unexpected whodunnit follow, helped along by a well-written cast of functional adults and realistic teenagers. Sky, his friends, and his clear-from-launch secondary love interest survive their last year of high school.
Like Love, Simon before it, alongside clear and crucial beats there is an overt inclusiveness mixed with the now classic queer trauma storyline, that can, when done wrong, feel heavy-handed, as if it were requested by an editor who said something along the lines of, “It’s a little white, isn’t it?” The crux of The Sky Blues’ narrative rests on the sole Iraqi American student at Sky’s school, and much of the story’s tension relies on issues involving race and sexual orientation in a small conservative, white town. While readers may come to their own conclusions on the book’s use of inclusivity as plot drivers, the inclusion of racially diverse characters came across as vital and deftly written. And while it might also be easy to suggest that the limited characterization of much of the cast of characters reflects a weak commitment to this diversity, Couch’s writing embraces the flippant and emotional vibe of many teenagers—sure, they care about their friends, but they care more about their plans for Saturday night.
This casualness about topics adults might find more serious and in need of attention rightly pervades the book. Sky and his friends, barring Bree, seem to never do homework, are always available for random, middle-of-the-week adventures to other towns, and their parents are mostly removed until they’re needed for the plot. Where a bulkier, more serious novel might suffer from a subsequent lack of detailed characterization, or feel weighed down by the less-than-subtle but appropriate discussions of pronouns and systemic racism, The Sky Blues hits all the right notes that could be covered by a class called “John Hughes Today: Writing Teenagers—What You Need to Know.” Nothing feels like it was written as part of a poorly conceptualized diversity, equity, and inclusion training…each character’s behavior feels genuine and consistent with classic teen behavior (although some of the references feel markedly more gay-man-in-their-thirties, and that’s okay).
The narrative craft most compelling in The Sky Blues is the parallel use of suspense and misdirection as Sky and his friends attempt to figure out who hacked the email blast, while Sky learns more about his family, his dead dad, and the loving community he didn’t know he had. If YA loses interest, Couch should consider writing mystery…the payoff at the end of the book was unexpected and charming. All in all, The Sky Blues is a solid, page-turning, tear-jerking debut that wonderfully merges the teen movie with YA romance, and has rightfully already been optioned for film.
The Sky Blues Robbie Couch Simon & Schuster Hardcover 336 pages ISBN: 978-1-5344-7785-8 $16.99