“Vanilla” by Billy Merrell— Vanilla and Hunter

Merrell, Billy. “Vanilla”, Push, 2017.

Vanilla and Hunter

Amos Lassen

Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade. They came out together and became a real couple in high school. They are very much in love and as their relationship deepens, we see a few problems. Hunter want to have sex but Vanilla doesn’t know how he feels about that. Hunter has some loud friends that Vanilla sees as obnoxious and does not want to hang out with them.

It is never easy to be a couple in love while still in school and we see that here as Vanilla and Hunter are growing apart and each is discovering new things about himself. Yet their relationship is the one constant thing for both of them.

Vanilla wants to spend more time just being in love with each other before they commit to having sex and he, so he tries to make Hunter understand and while Hunter does understand, he doesn’t know how much longer he can go without sex. He reacts by pushing Vanilla away and finding new friends, talking to other guys online, and trying to figure out what he really wants in life. Vanilla at the same time tries to figure out why he doesn’t want sex or if he is just not ready.

Eventually, as things start to go downhill with Vanilla and Hunter, Clown/Angel is the one that is constantly there for Vanilla, telling him that maybe his lack of interest in sex might not be something that is a bad thing, or maybe that he is actually asexual.

“Vanilla” is the first young adult novel from poet Billy Merrell. It is written in verse and shows a clear understanding of today’s gay youth. Merrell beautifully captures the emotions of adolescent relationships and young love.

The story alternates between three narrators; Vanilla, Hunter, and their mutual friend Clown. Each of the narrators’ sections are distinguished from each other by three different fonts. However, I needed a bit more information about the characters and I would have liked a bit more differentiation between Hunter, Vanilla and Clown. The novel is propelled by the drama and the emotions of the characters and I would have loved to now them a bit more. We see that some freedoms often give way to more problems. Vanilla, Hunter, and their friends struggle to understand their place in the “gay community” and they struggle with the pressures of being gay in high school. They want intimacy, but they don’t know what form that intimacy should take.

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