Sixteen-year-old Evan Granger has no problems with being gay. Despite his mother’s objections, he wears nail polish and makeup to school and pursues his goal of becoming a professional drag queen.
TV drag star Taffy Sweet gives encouragement and Evan’s cousin Holly tries to protect him, but school bullies abuse him so badly because of his sexuality and the girly way he dresses that he ends up at the hospital emergency room. After that, even his new crush, a closeted football jock named Moe Garcia, is unhappy about Evan's choice to live his life openly gay. But even in girly clothes and nail polish, Evan is a force to be reckoned with, and he soon shows the bullies—and everyone else—that beating a drag queen up does not mean the queen is beaten down.
“Hey, Evan?” A soft, male voice. Definitely not Frankel. The door closed, and I peeked out from under the table.
Guillermo Garcia, the only member of the football team who treated me like a human being, grinned down at me, his teeth white in his round, brown face. The deep-brown eyes I’d daydreamed about crinkled at the corners but also held some concern. “Playing fort?”
“Sure. Do it every lunch period.” I scooted out from under the table, wishing he’d found me in more favorable circumstances. “Indulging my inner child, you know?”
He chuckled. “Uh-huh. Sure. Frankel’s down in the caf bragging about scaring the crap out of you. You okay?”
“Yeah.” I scrambled to my feet, ignoring his outstretched hand. I didn’t think I’d be able to stand having him touch me just then.
“Bullies suck ass.” He paused. “I wonder what they’d think if I said that to their faces?”
“They’d probably beat the shit out of you.” Probably not, really. After all, he was a football player like them. They probably wouldn’t give him too hard a time.
He shrugged. “They’d have a hell of a fight on their hands. I’ve had the best try to beat me, and they haven’t gotten far. I moved here from Brooklyn last year. We know how to fight there.”
“Maybe you can give me lessons.” I wasn’t much of a fighter and didn’t want to be, but it would beat having to deal with jerkwads every day. Maybe if I fought back, they’d give up and leave me alone before I decided to give up. I’d been pretty close more than once to doing just that. The only thing that kept me around some days was knowing how thrilled Frankel and some of the others would probably be about my death.
“Maybe so.” He grinned. “You have no clue who I am, do you?”
“No. No one knows Guillermo Garcia.” I bit my tongue, this time for real. “Sorry. Don’t mean to be a sarcastic jerk.”
“No need to be sorry.” He held out his hand again. “Call me Moe, if you want. I get that a lot. I only allow it from friends. I’d like to be your friend, Evan. You’re a hell of a lot more interesting than the rest of the football players. I’ve been meaning to talk to you for months, but I figured you thought I was like them.”
“You’re not,” I said. “You’re decent.”
He nodded. “Thanks. I try.”
We shook hands, and I forced myself not to shiver at the contact. Contact I’d—well, let’s just say I had a really good imagination and this handshake would fuel a few daydreams later on. I was kind of suspicious of his reasons for talking to me, but I knew he wasn’t a jerk-jock like Frankel and the others. He’d never hassled me before, at least. So it was probably fairly safe to believe he wouldn’t now. “I can always use more friends. Thanks for tracking me down.”
“You’re welcome.” He studied me. “You know, I’ve been watching you in class.”
I raised an eyebrow and tried to ignore the little flutter in my belly. “You have?” We had History and Anatomy together, but I didn’t pay much attention to him in class and didn’t think he’d ever even noticed me.
“Yeah. You’re kind of cute.” He grinned again, this time at the look of sheer astonishment on my face. “Yeah, Evan, I’m gay. Just between us.”
I almost fell over when he said that. He was on the football team. He’d taken a girl to sophomore-junior social the previous spring. There was no way he could possibly be gay.
And then I realized he’d said I was cute, and I had to lean against the table to keep from actually falling. “You what?”
He cracked up laughing. “Man, the look on your face really makes this worth it. You heard me right. I am gay. I don’t show it off as much as you, because I kind of value my life. Right now, you’re the only one at this school besides me who knows. You know, though, I really admire you.”
“You do?” I didn’t have anything to say except questions at that point. The fluttering in my gut was so bad I half expected a freaking butterfly to fly out of my navel. This guy I’d been thinking about for weeks had been thinking about me too. A hot guy, one who almost definitely didn’t get smacked around and called a fag, was gay and was interested in me. And he admired me!
Maybe I’d hit my head when Frankel shoved me against the locker. That would explain what had to be a hallucination.
“You don’t care if people give you shit. You’re a hell of a lot braver than I am.” Moe touched my fingertips. “I’d never dare to do this.”
“I like blue.”
He laughed. He was doing that a lot, and I kind of liked it since I knew it wasn’t directed at me. “Me too. I saw that thing you were wearing this morning. That was, um, interesting.”
“It’s called a boa.” I couldn’t believe that in this entire school, no one knew the proper term for that accessory. “Glad you liked it. Mr. Lawrence made me take it off.”
“That figures.” He glanced at the door. “You hungry? There’s still enough time left to eat.”
“If Frankel’s bragging about scaring me, do you really think I should go into the cafeteria?” I wasn’t exactly in love with the idea. By that time Frankel had probably riled everyone up against me, and I’d have to deal with all kinds of crap when I walked into the cafeteria.
“I’ll go with you,” Moe said. “I’ve got your back.”
“Um, oh.” I could have twisted that sentence of his a few different ways, and some of them greatly appealed to me. Of course, I knew what he really meant. “Okay. Cool. Thanks.”
An Interview With Jo:
When and why did you start writing?
I started writing when I was five years old; before that, I made up stories but didn’t know how to write them down. Writing for me was a way to escape my life and also a way for me to have friends, since I could make them up.
What’s the strangest thing that’s inspired one of your stories?
My new release Nail Polish and Feathers was inspired by the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race and by a friend of my daughter’s who often wears nail polish, earrings, etc. and has said if he ever became a drag queen, he would be called La Chuga. The novel is partly dedicated to him.
Have you ever based a character on someone you know? If so, did you tell them? If not, is there someone in your life you’d like to base a character on?
See the above answer. And yes, my daughter’s friend knows the character of Evan Granger is based on him. He seems pretty happy about it.
What do the people in your “real life” think of your writing?
I have an incredibly supportive husband and kids. Not only are they proud of my writing, they brag about me to other people.
Tell us about your latest book.
My new release Nail Polish and Feathers is from Harmony Ink Press, the young adult imprint of adult romance publisher Dreamspinner Press. Sixteen-year-old Evan Granger wears nail polish and women’s clothes to school and dreams of becoming a drag queen. When bullies beat him up so badly he ends up in the emergency room, Evan decides he will not let them beat him down. I wrote the book partly in response to an interview with a contestant on the RuPaul’s Drag Race show; the contestant talked about how badly he’d been bullied in school and the effect that it had had on him. He went on to win that season. Readers can find the book on the publisher’s site and at third-party online retailers.
What books do you have available now (title and publisher)?
I have too many books to list here. Other than Nail Polish and Feathers, the rest of my young adult books are from Jupiter Gardens Press and Featherweight Press. Readers can find my complete list on my website, www.joramsey.com.
What books do you have coming soon?
I have two young adult novels currently under contract. Opening Up is a sequel to my 2011 release Cluing In and follows V.J. Josephson as he navigates his first boyfriend, coming out as gay, and his mother’s severe depression. It will be available from Featherweight Press later this year. The other novel is Where No One Knows, about sixteen-year-old Kellan McKee, a female-to-male transgender boy who is thrown out of his home after psychically setting fire to a friend of his stepfather. That will be available tentatively in October from Musa Publishing’s Pan imprint.