Golden Boys by Phil Stamper

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The ‘golden boys’ are four queer [the term used by the author] sixteen-year-old boys living in a small town in rural Ohio – and who are best friends.  Gabriel, Reese, Sal and Heath are at the end of their penultimate school year and about to begin their spring break.  But instead of heading off to camp like every other American teenager, these boys are going their separate ways for two months.

Gabriel is going to Boston to work for Save the Trees; Reese has a design internship in Paris; Sal will be an intern in the office of an Ohio senator in Washington DC; and Heath is heading to Dayton Florida to help his aunt and cousin in their bar.  They are all bright, over-achieving students, and comfortable in their queerness.  While there are backstories for each of the boys [Reese has two ‘moms’; Heath’s parents are divorcing; Sal’s mother is the vice-principal of the boys’ school; and Gabriel is in therapy], these are not explored in any depth.  The real focus of the story remains on what lies ahead for the boys as they head off into the spring break.

What follows are first-person descriptions – in chapters headed by their respective names – of their experiences in their new settings.  They each speak of the challenges facing them in the work environment, the development of new friendships and romances, and their attempts to maintain their connections with each other through texting and Facetime.  Every now and then, the author intersperses these chapters with facsimiles of the text messages from one to other of the boys.

It is sometimes a challenge to clearly differentiate between the four boys and this reader at least needed occasionally to go back to the beginning to correctly identify which boy was which.  Perhaps this is not unexpected as the boys are very close friends [and two of them are in a sexual relationship] and ‘found family’ is a common trope in queer fiction where a members of an unrelated group come to love each other as a family.  Sometimes, this is to escape overbearing natural families but in Golden Boys it is more a coming together of like-minded teenagers.

But – with apologies to Shakespeare – the course of friendship never did run smooth.  As time progresses and the boys become more immersed in their respective roles, the novel moves out of feel-good mode into one more challenging and fraught.  This is reflected in the dramatic pace of the novel which accelerates in the last quarter as the boys sort out where their true friendships – and futures – lie.  Without offering too much of a spoiler, the story ends as it begins.

Golden Boys is a warm-hearted and rather charming tale of friendships and family connections.  The protagonists are each appealing and the story readily engages the reader and leads her/him to care about the boys and how they negotiate their first taste of the transition from school to work.

While clearly pitched at the mid-teen reading cohort, the novel does have a wider appeal but the reader should allow her/himself to be drawn into the world of the Golden Boys.

Phil Stamper has also written The Gravity of Us and As Far as You Will Take Me.  Golden Boys is the first of a duology.

Golden Boys

[2022]

by Phil Stamper

Bloomsbury

ISBN 978 152664 384 1

$16.99; 372pp

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