A smart, sexy YA novel about a boy band star, his first breakup, his first rebound, and what it means to be queer in the public eye, from award-winning author Adib Khorram
Hunter never expected to be a boy band star, but, well, here he is. He and his band Kiss & Tell are on their first major tour of North America, playing arenas all over the United States and Canada (and getting covered by the gossipy press all over North America as well). Hunter is the only gay member of the band, and he just had a very painful breakup with his first boyfriendleaked sexts, public heartbreak, and alland now everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens.
But Hunter isn't really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. Does it mean dressing up in whatever The Label tells him to wear for photo shoots and pretending never to have sex? (Unfortunately, yes.) Does it mean finding community among the queer kids at the meet-and-greets after K&T's shows? (Fortunately, yes.) Does it include a new relationship with Kaivan, the drummer for the band opening for K&T on tour? (He hopes so.) But when The Label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, it spells trouble—for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy Hunter plays for the cameras, and, most importantly, for Hunter himself.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Vancouver, BC March 25, 2022
I can hear them out there: the buzz of excitement, the occasional whistle or shout. The electric anticipation, humming against my skin, as 36,000 people wait for us to take the stage.
I used to feel this way before games, too, and that was only a few hundred people at best: parents and grandparents, friends if they’re not too busy, siblings if they’re not pissed off that day.
But this is the home game to end all home games. This is BC Place. We’ve never played a stadium before.
Owen’s bouncing on his feet in front of me, rolling his mic back and forth between his hands. I can’t see the rest of the guys in the dim blue backstage light, but I’m sure they’re just as anxious.
The vibration of the audience makes its usual preshow shift, like they can tell we’re about to start. Shaz, our stage manager, says something into her radio. The brim of her cap casts her face in shadow.
The preshow video starts, a bass drum beating out a low heartbeat. Slow-motion video of us laughing, singing, goofing off fills the screens on stage, not that we can see them from back here. The audience goes wild, clapping and screaming so loud I can’t hear anything else. I pop my in-ear monitors in, make sure they’re snug. At the front of the line, Shaz taps Ashton on the shoulder, and we take our places in darkness. Haze condenses against my eyelashes and I blink the moisture away.
Drumsticks click. The guitars kick in, and then the keyboards, for the first chords of “Heartbreak Fever.” The audience cheers even louder.
I find my mark, a little spot of glow tape, and glance offstage out of habit. Last time we played a show at home, Aidan was watching from the wings, cheering me on. Not this time.
I stare out into the audience. A constellation of mobile phones and exit signs twinkle through the dark.
I get that urge to vom, but it’s swallowed by adrenaline as a spotlight picks up Ashton at center stage. He shakes his hair off his face as the crowd screams. He waves, struts downstage, brings his mic to his mouth and sings.
He ain’t got no game
Just a dimple in his chin,
A twinkle in his eye,
A gentle laugh, and then
Stage right, another spotlight picks up Ethan, who gives a cheesy grin. He’s trying out a new hairstyle, sort of swoopy, and the stage lights turn his inky black hair almost blue.
He whispers “Are you listening?
I wanna see you smile.”
He promises a dance but then
He leaves with no goodbye
Ian’s next, with his shy smile, hand over his heart; across the stage, Owen jumps as his light finds him, and they sing in harmony.
I can’t shake this feeling,
I just can’t believe, no,
I’ve just got to sweat it out,
This heartbreak fever—
The bridge hits, and my body crackles with electricity. This feeling, at least, is familiar. It’s the same thing I used to feel at the starting buzzer, when I knew the puck was mine.
It’s euphoria. There’s no other word for it.
The spotlight blinds me as I lift my mic and sing.
I’m still floating as the last chord of “Poutine” rings and the lights cut to black. The crowd is still screaming, crying, even throwing a few flowers toward the stage as the lights come up for our last bow, but the barricade is far enough back they can’t actually reach us.
No underwear this time, which is a relief, because gross.
We wave and smile and exit stage right, duck between two pieces of scenery (a stylized Lions Gate Bridge and a huge maple leaf, which both double as video walls) and head to our dressing rooms. We’ve only got five minutes before the meet and greet.
Ahead of me, Ashton spins around to walk backward. He’s breathing hard. We all are.
“That was awesome!” His canines show when he smiles, and I can’t stop myself from grinning back. “Do you think every night’s going to be like this?”
Next to me, Owen says, “I hope so.”
Ashton smiles wider and turns around, nearly skipping to his dressing room door.
Ethan grabs my shoulders from behind, almost hanging off me, as he laughs in my ear. “It’s only gonna get better.” He gives me a shake and turns toward his own dressing room.
Mine is the last one on the right. I duck inside and peel my black T-shirt off, wipe my chest and armpits with the towels on the little table, and put on some fresh deodorant. I tug at the waistband of my jeans to try to get some airflow down there, because I have terrible swampass, and my underwear’s giving me a wedgie.
I pull on an identical dry T-shirt, pop in a couple breath mints, and try to salvage my sweat-soaked hair as best I can. It’s not as bad as helmet hair, but then again, I wasn’t getting photographed after games.
I wash my hands, take a deep breath, and step back out into the hallway. Ashton’s already done and waiting, leaning against his door. His eyes brighten, blue turned nearly gray in the fluorescent lights. He looks so much like Aidan, it makes me ache.
We broke up over a month ago. When is it going to stop hurting?
“Yeah?” I fix my face and put my smile back on. “Tonight was great, eh?”
“It was fucking amazing.”
Ashton says it like we’ve never done a concert before.
Then again, this is the biggest by far. Last tour we were in theaters and smaller arenas, not stadiums.
Not BC Place.
“It was pretty fucking cool,” I agree. “Come on. Let’s go meet your adoring fans.”
“You mean yours!”
“Ours, then.” I smack his shoulder and lead him into the hall toward the Reception Suite.
The meet and greet is packed. Ashton’s line is the longest (like usual), but the rest of us have pretty respectable lines too. For some reason, my line has a weirdly high proportion of moms.
I don’t know why moms like the gay boy so much.
Some of the people in line are crying as they meet me. I thank them for coming, sign their posters, pose for pictures.
“I came out because of you,” one kid says.
“You’re such a good role model,” their mom says.
“I’m sorry about Aidan.”
“Your music got me through some tough times.”
“I want to be like you when I grow up.”
“Do you think you and Aidan are going to get back together?”
“Is it okay if I hug you?”
There’s a crew shooting footage for our documentary, and one of the camera guys is hovering over my shoulder. I think his name is Brett. All the camera guys so far have had the same full beards and worn the same black Henleys and black cargo pants, so it’s hard to tell.
When the shelter kids come through, I drop my fake smile and put on my real one.
It’s really overwhelming sometimes, to be honest, meeting people my age who got kicked out of their homes, disowned, hurt by the people that are supposed to love them the most. And it makes me feel kind of shitty, too, because I’m a rich white gay cis boy and so many of them are poor and brown and trans.
I thought they’d be sad. I thought they’d be mad at the world for the way it never cares enough for queer kids unless they look like me. But they’re laughing and smiling and telling each other jokes, accepting my hugs and thanking me for the tickets.
The lines finally start to dwindle. I’m the last one done, after thanking the shelter director for bringing her kids out tonight. I’m a terrible person because I’ve already forgotten her name, but she’s wearing rose-tinted glasses and a huge, dimpled smile.
“Thank you for making this happen,” she says. “I haven’t seen our kids this happy in a long time.”
I shake my head and fiddle with the cap of my empty water bottle. “I’m glad we could do it.”
“These kids are lucky to have you to look up to.”
My freckles itch as she shakes my hand and walks away. Once she’s out of the room, I collapse back into my seat and sigh. I’m a wrung-out towel.
“Hey,” a low voice says to my side. I start and turn to find Kaivan Parvani leaning against the wall behind me.
Kaivan and his brothers are our opener—PAR-K. (I still can’t believe we get to have an opener this tour.) I’ve seen them around, during sound check and stuff, but haven’t really gotten to talk to any of them.
Kaivan’s my age, with short cropped black hair, thick eyebrows, and dark brown eyes. He’s PAR-K’s drummer, which means he’s got drummer’s forearms, which I have to admit I find kind of sexy. They’re brown and corded and crossed over his black tank top.
I take a sip from my water bottle but then remember it’s empty.
“That was awesome,” Kaivan says.
“Thanks. You guys were great too.” I only heard the first bit of their set, but they’ve got a good sound, edgy yet somehow nostalgic.
“I meant what you did, here. Like, with the queer kids. That was really cool.”
I start to blush, because Kaivan is looking at me with his big brown eyes like I’m some sort of hero, and I’m not.
“Cheers. I mean, I try.”
“Well, it means a lot to all of us queer kids, seeing you out there doing this.”
I blink at Kaivan, and now it’s his turn to blush.
“I guess I’m gay too,” he says softly. “I came out a couple months ago.”
“Oh. Wow. Congrats, dude.”
I can’t believe I missed that. But there’s this lightness in my chest, like the ringing of a celeste.
I’m not the only gay boy on this tour.
Kaivan shrugs. “It was easier, you know? Seeing you out there? Made it less scary.”
“Wow. I mean, I’m glad. I mean, does The Label know?”
“They do now,” Kaivan laughs. “Our manager was kind of hesitant about it, but I told him if they were fine with you, they’d have to be fine with me.”
“That’s awesome.” I’m smiling like a goof, and he probably thinks I’m a weirdo, so I ask, “What’s your story, eh? No one ever tells us anything.”
“The usual story? Wrote some songs, got picked up by The Label, got lucky I guess?”
“Nah, you guys sound good.”
“Thanks. But it’s still luck. Lots of bands sound good.”
“It helps that you’re good-looking too,” I say before I can stop myself.
But he is good-looking. He’s got the kind of face that demands attention, a smile that deserves to have songs written about it.
I clear my throat and look at my hands. “Sorry. That was super awkward.”
“It’s cool. You are too.”
I bite my lip to stop myself from smiling, but I’m sure he can see my blush. I’m a ginger: When I blush, you can see it from space.
“It’s all a clever ruse,” I say, because he’s looking me in the eye and there’s this weird tension between us.
But Kaivan laughs, and the tension seems to relax, though it doesn’t go away entirely. I take the chance to scan the room. The other guys are gone, except for Ashton. He hangs by the door, head cocked to the side in a question. I wave him off and stand, running a hand through my hair.
“I guess we’re the last ones out. Where’s The Label putting you guys up?” I ask.
“Oh wow. I’ve never stayed there.” It’s this super fancy hotel downtown. “I’m kind of jealous.”
“You’re not there too?”
“Nah, Mom wanted me to stay home until we hit the road.”
“Aww.” Kaivan opens the door for me and follows me down the hall. The back of my neck tingles from his proximity. I think I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. Actual butterflies.
It’s been over a month since Aidan and I broke up, and some days I still wake up missing him. I promised myself I wouldn’t like anyone new until after this tour. That I’d focus on myself.
I can’t be into a new guy. Even if he is cute. Even if he does have those little dimples in his shoulders, and the kind of collarbone I want to press my lips against.
I take a deep breath, try to think about something else, but instead I get a whiff of his scent. He’s wearing some sort of inky cologne, vetiver maybe, but underneath is sweat and warm skin.
I don’t let myself wonder what he tastes like.
I’m just pent up, that’s all. I’ll be fine once I get back home and take care of myself.
Kaivan and I are going to be friends—I desperately need queer friends, especially on tour—but that’s it.