Book Reviews: Vanilla and Skin

Posted November 16, 2017 by shooting in Book Review / 18 Comments

Vanilla by Billy Merrell

Review by Lauren

source: copy from ALA17; all opinions are my own

Official Summary (add on Goodreads): Hunter and Vanilla become boyfriends before they’re even teenagers, and stay a couple even when adolescence intervenes. But in high school, conflict arises — mostly because Hunter is much more comfortable with the sex part of sexual identity. As the two boys start to realize that loving someone doesn’t guarantee they will always be with you, they find out more about their own identities — with Hunter striking out on his own while Van begins to understand his own asexuality.

In poems that are romantic and poems that are heartbreaking, Vanilla explores all the flavors of the spectrum — and how romance and love aren’t always the same thing.

Review: I have such a hard time reviewing books that have controversy surrounding them because I’m not someone who wants to get enmeshed in all the drama. Regardless, here we go! This book is about Vanilla and Hunter who have been dating for years, but now that they are a bit older, Hunter wants to take the romance to a new level. It makes sense. I think most teenage boys have sex on the brain and Hunter really does love Vanilla. Where the controversy comes in for this is that Vanilla is asexual. Here’s the thing though – Vanilla doesn’t realize he’s asexual until near the end of the book. This means that when Hunter is pushing for more, he doesn’t realize that Vanilla isn’t just nervous. He tells Vanilla that he’ll want it eventually, because he isn’t thinking “hey, my boyfriend might be asexual” and I can’t blame him. It’s not a sexuality widely talked about and I think this book shows that. I feel like it might have helped if Vanilla had applied asexuality to himself a little earlier in the story, but everyone’s coming out experience is different. Sometimes you just don’t know how to label your feelings, you know?

I was a little iffy on the names though – everyone has a bit of a nickname in the book, so you know, Vanilla isn’t actually the kid’s name. People have issue with this too because it makes it sound like Vanilla is only called that because his sexuality is so vanilla, but I feel like Hunter explains in the book that that’s never why he called his boyfriend that. Also, the book is told in verse – and it’s mostly Vanilla and Hunter’s point of views – so that might make some aspects of the story difficult to really understand. Maybe aspects of the book are getting lost in translation, if you will. I don’t know. Obviously if the book upsets you, stop reading it, but I also know that some asexual men and women have reviewed the book in a positive manner so it’s one of those “you do you” type of books. I liked it – though I almost wish it was a regular narrative and not in verse just because of the nature of the subjects talked about.

Two book reviews: Vanilla by Billy Merrell and Skin by Christian Baines Click To Tweet

Skin by Christian Baines

Review by Lauren

source: copy from Netgalley; all opinions are my own

Official Summary (add on Goodreads): Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter. 

Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed.

When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge. 

Review: Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d rate this one if I had to. It was definitely not what I expected at all, but it’s also a fascinating premise at the same time. I really felt for Kyle whose lover is murdered one night. He’s not sure how to keep his memory alive, turning toward some of the spiritual stories he was told about New Orleans.

Marc is someone that made me equally upset and mad. Upset because he’s with an abusive lover – though not boyfriend – and he’s essentially being used. This makes you mad on his behalf, but it also makes you wonder why he doesn’t just leave. Granted, I understand that that’s a big question. Where would he go? He doesn’t have anyone else. He’s almost okay with what he’s being given, even if it’s awful and heartbreaking. So yes, I’m madder on his behalf than anything because it’s horrible that he’s found himself in this situation.

The book goes back and forth between Kyle and Marc, and eventually things start to come together, but not until near the end. In fact, I didn’t understand why the book was called Skin until the last page of the book and boy is it freaky! There isn’t much to say about this one without giving things away, so I’ll end it about here. It was an intriguing read but not necessarily one that completely hooked me.

18 responses to “Book Reviews: Vanilla and Skin

  1. Sometimes I have that problem too–speaking about books/things that generate a lot of controversy. I recently read a book called Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan that was M/M where one character was greysexual and wasn’t all that into sex. You should check it out 😀

  2. Vanilla sounds like it might be an interesting read, especially with the asexuality issue at the end. I’m not sure I’d be too into Skin.

  3. Something about the synopsis of skin just isn’t garnering any interest from me but I am intrigued by Vanilla. I think when it comes to books with any type of diversity there are those just laying wait to jump in and find fault. It’s not diverse “enough”, it’s not the “right kind” of diversity, it doesn’t speak to everyone, it’s not “my” experience. And on and on. So I don’t give much credence to whatever controversy there is. The story itself sounds interesting and emotional. I’m not huge fan of stories in verse but I might still give this one a look. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it, Lauren.

  4. humm the names are a bit odd, Vanilla and Hunter, I guess. Oh and I get it, each to their own. I think it sounds like for the most part you might have enjoyed it? It’s great that people who are asexual came out and voiced their opinion on the book, that is definitely important, especially for someone like me that doesn’t really know otherwise.

    The second book sounds heartbreaking

  5. I don’t know that I could read an entire book in verse. I’m impressed you made it through. The second one brought Silence of the Lambs to mind when you said there was a surprise at the end as to why it’s called Skin ;). Thanks for the reviews! I always love hearing about new books.

  6. The description of the first book doesn’t pull me in nearly as much as the second but that likely has to do with the fact that I’m a sucker for an edgy thriller involving murder and taking place in New Orleans (too specific?? Ha!). Thanks for sharing, Lauren! Xoxo

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