Thank you to the publisher for providing me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advanced copy and are subject to change in final publication.
As someone who was born and raised in Seattle and attended university in Capitol Hill, just seeing the cover of Jay’s Gay Agenda sparked so much joy. (Thank you Jason June for writing Pike Place instead of Pike’s Place because oof.) Reading about Jay’s exploration of the city was equally as fun to me as reading about his relationships, if not more because of all of the locations I recognized. Being able to envision Jay’s adventures made the book that much more enjoyable to me, and it was so entertaining viewing my city through someone else’s eyes.
Title: Jay’s Gay Agenda
Author: Jason June
Publication Date: June 1st, 2021
Source: Physical ARC via publisher
Age Range & Genre: YA, contemporary, romance
Representation: m/m romance, Chinese love interest, genderqueer side character
Content warnings: cheating, vomiting
Synopsis: There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all this friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.
Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs, where he can flirt with Very Sexy Boys and search for love. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones…because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan.
“I found them,” I whispered. “I found the gays.”
Having grown up in rural Washington his whole life, it’s no wonder that Jay is a little overwhelmed when he starts going to school at Capitol Hill High School and is suddenly surrounded by romantic prospects. He’s dreamed about simply meeting another gay person, let alone dating one, and hardly knows what to do when multiple people show interest in him. He tries to juggle his budding relationships and his lifelong friendship with his best friend Lu, and finds that balancing his new life with his old one is more difficult than he thought it would be. Jay makes a lot of mistakes throughout the book, but I love his journey in realizing that his identity consists of more factors than him being gay, as well as his path of atonement to repair the relationships that he damages by trying to have it all.
Jay’s main love interest, Albert Huang, is an unapologetic nerd, which I love. Albert knows exactly who he is and refuses to be ashamed of that. He’s a robotics fanatic and isn’t shy about his passion for the book’s version of Pokemon Go, and he calls out multiple stereotypes about Asian men along the way. Unlike Jay, Albert is no stranger to romance, and is easily able to lay out his personal boundaries.
It’s the weirdest thing how you can live in such a seemingly depressing place – gray skies all the time, rain from hour to hour – but have it still be so full of color.
As someone who grew up in the black and white world of rural Washington, Jay is startled by all of the color that Seattle has to offer in more ways than one. Suddenly, the world is his oyster, and he finally gets to start crossing items off of his Gay Agenda. Luckily for Jay, he meets, Max, a gay genderqueer classmate in his fashion design class. Max offers to be Jay’s guide and introduces him to one of his friends at a drag show, setting Jay up to accomplish at least 2 of his Gay Agenda goals.
Meanwhile, Jay can’t stop thinking about Albert, who invites him to hang out with his friends and eventually asks Jay out on a date. In an effort to have the best of both worlds, Jay tries to juggle his romantic feelings for Albert with his physical attraction to Max’s friend, and drops the ball in doing so. To make matters worse, he can’t even share his dilemma with Lu because of the lies he tells her in the beginning, and Jay’s new life starts to unravel around him.
…life doesn’t always go as planned, even with a list. No matter what the universe threw my way, I just needed to remember to be me.
I really appreciated how much Jay messes up throughout the book, because we then get to read about how he makes up for his mistakes and grows as a person. Having been known as “the gay kid” for the majority of his life, Jay is still figuring out who he is outside of his sexuality, but he doesn’t use that as an excuse for taking out his anger on the people around him when his lies start to catch up with him. Because of his mistakes, Jay grows into himself while still holding onto his longest friendship and his country roots, and you can’t help but root for him.
As much as I enjoyed Jay’s journey, I think the side characters and plots could have used more development. Max is a compelling character with issues of his own, but his relationship with Reese was one of my least favorite parts of the book. I would also recommend Jay’s Gay Agenda with caution due to the cheating storyline, but if you’re looking for a funny, queer contemporary young adult romance that doesn’t shy away from sex and mistakes, you can’t go wrong here.