If you’ve been following the podcast, then you know I had a blast attending YALLWest in late April - and that I came home with quite a few ARCs to read. Super freaking exciting (and a bit overwhelming if I’m being honest). But it’s always a fun time when I sit down to read something that I probably wouldn’t have picked up myself so I can’t complain. The first ARC I picked up to read was Time Out by the Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner with Carlyn Greenwald.

Barclay Elliot is the captain and star player of his high school basketball team, the pride of his small Georgia town. After the passing of his grandfather, Barclay decides that it is time to live as his authentic self and come out to his friends, family, teammates, and town - at the biggest pep rally of the year. Things don’t go as expected and now Barclay, unceremoniously stripped of his popularity and position, has to figure out who he is without basketball.

Content warning for homophobia, grief, underage drinking, and loss of a loved one (not pictured but talked about throughout the book).

Let’s start with the obvious: a teenage coming out story is not something new and ground-breaking. But the need for coming out stories will never go away as we navigate a world in which our young queer kids (and even late-blooming queer adults such as myself) need somewhere to look and see themselves and not feel alone. This story may not be new ground, but it will definitely be something that will allow someone struggling with their journey to look to and take comfort in knowing they aren’t alone.

That being said, this one may be a bit rough to get through for a baby gay. The blatant and repeated homophobia that Barclay encounters is nothing short of terrifying (for someone preparing to come out) and enraging (for allies and those who are already out and proud). I may be looking through some rose-colored glasses as someone who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it also felt like the portrayals of it were excessive and maybe even a bit unrealistic. Not to say that it doesn’t exist in society today (we all know that it does), but basically the entire town turned against Barclay when he came out. Again, I was born and raised in a big city in one of the most liberal areas of the country, so take my feelings about this with a grain of salt.

There is a lot of story packed into a small package, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but it did feel like we (along with Barclay) got pulled in a lot of different directions. It felt like all the frustrations from the past few years were poured into this less than 300 page novel about a boy just trying to find his place. Along with Barclay’s coming out story, the book also tackled voter registration, political corruption, grief, a bit of anti-semitism, and (of course) homophobia. Each of these things is incredibly important to talk about, but they all kind of got smooshed together into one book and we didn’t get to dig in as deeply as each topic warrants.

Each of the characters had some flaws that made them unlikable at times, including Barclay, though some were worse than others for obvious reasons. One of the big things that stood out was that Barclay didn’t really have any supportive adults to advocate for him. While this was frustrating to watch, it also highlighted the absence of his grandfather and underlined how important it was to find your people when you are going through it. And while Barclay did have a small group of support, it did feel at times as if that allyship was performative. 

We’ve had an explosion of queer joy in media over the past few years and it has been beautiful and wonderful and very much needed. But while I will always choose joy over pain, I also believe that this story was needed in all its ugly glory. Queer joy is great, but it is also not always real or accessible and queer kids, especially when they are deciding whether to come out or not, need to understand both sides of the spectrum. With the painful stories, we can prepare them a little bit for the backlash that may come, but also give them a space to feel like they will find their community and find that queer joy. The ugly stories help lend truth to the (overused but accurate) phrase “it gets better.”

Time Out by Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner with Carlyn Greenwald is out now and you can pick up a copy for yourself here.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well!