This is the first review in a series concerned with young adult books with LGBT themes, because I read a lot of such books and want to share them with you.
Is He or Isn’t He? (2006) is a charmingly happy romp by John Hall, which will suit you if you are despairing at a lack of positive fiction with queer themes. This is not to say that it is not entirely understandable and important that a lot of it isn’t. But there are a lot of ways of talking about and experiencing queer lives, and our lead boy Anthony and his straight best friend Paige have it all.
They’re improbably wealthy private school kids from New York City, and they both want to have boyfriends by senior prom. The problem is that they’re both after the same guy, Max. Before they can decide which one of them will be with him, they have to decide if he’s gay or straight. They also have to get past the smooth and mean Felix, who also has his eye on Max.
First problem first: hello binary. I spent this book hoping Max would be bisexual and not interested in either of them. The book does not resolve that way, or acknowledge sexualities beyond that binary at all. What it does address is the presumptuousness of Paige and Anthony thinking they are simply entitled to Max’s affections if their orientations match. In any case, both besties end up happy, let’s just say.
It’s a whole lot of lighthearted fun, which is nice, and what is nicer is that Paige and Anthony are absolutely wonderful friends who are honestly invested in each others’ happiness, and help each other try to get in with Max in very silly ways. Also, their friend Colleen is fat and does not take anyone’s badmouthing her about it. That anti-fatshaming is not something I see a lot of in YA, or anywhere, actually. Depending on whether you like gawking at pretty clothes and the lives of very rich people or find people throwing money around offputting, you will find those aspects of the novel likeable or not. Also… there are twins, they are focussed on looks and boyfriends and getting famous, and I am not sure what to say about them, but they are there. It’s a group of friends, they are silly and affectionate, and everything basically goes okay for them. I am not sure what happens to Felix by the end of the novel, though.
The premise is very reminiscent of M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts, which also features a gay boy and his straight female best friend who have to find out if their crush is gay or straight, so you may also want to check that out if you’re interested in this book.