[Review] Running with Lions by Julian Winters

Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.

Genre(s): YA, Contemporary, Sports
Published by Duet Books on June 7, 2018
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Representation: (click to show)

bisexual MC [Sebastian], gay British Pakistani Muslim LI [Emir], M/M main & secondary romances, queer / questioning major character [Mason], gay best friend [Willie], black MLM secondary character [Hunter], Mexican-American secondary character [Gio], diverse minor characters

Content warnings: (click to show)

bullying, body-image issues, queerphobia (explicitly challenged in-text), xenophobia / racism, Islamophobia, fade-to-black sex scene, ableist language, slut-shaming, facetious suicidal ideation, underage drinking & smoking, mention of alcohol as coping mechanism, mention of marijuana use, precanon loss of loved one (grandmother)

Whom you were attracted to off the field didn’t matter. If you could get the ball to the goal without falling, you were in. “At the end of the day, you’re a bunch of lost boys with big dreams, anyway. Screw the other BS!”

This made me incredibly nostalgic for my own high school days — I was a marching band (color guard) member for all four years, and I have so many fond memories of the camaraderie and banter evoked by Running with Lions. (That makes it sound like it was forever ago, rather than four years, but it honestly feels like much longer.) I also really related to Sebastian’s anxiety over figuring out post-graduation plans, plus the responsibility for his teammates.

My own experiences aside, Winters gives us a highly lovable and diverse band of brothers (plus Grace “Grey” Patrick, Coach’s tagalong stepdaughter) who are living, breathing, dreaming of soccer for the summer. I always love reading about characters pursuing their passions, so it was easy to get swept up in their enthusiasm for the sport.

And for each other: the relationships between the boys are mostly supportive but with the shit-talking and emotional constipation you’d expect from a bunch of (archetypal) teenage guys. Although certain developments are a bit tropey, it’s still emotionally satisfying to watch things play out as characters learn life lessons, communicate, and/or decide to put it all out there; only a single scene felt over-the-top dramatic, i.e. too frustrating for me to want to suspend disbelief.

Prose-wise, some of the passages are lovely, like the descriptions of sunrises/sunsets or Coach’s motivational speeches. Others border on corny/cheesy, like Sebastian’s musings and epiphanies. And some are awkward, like a mood-killing analogy in a scene where certain characters are getting it on. In general I unfortunately found more of the latter two, yet the emotions are still conveyed clearly and empathetically throughout the narrative. (And, of course, this is totally personal preference.)

So overall this is a fun coming-of-age sports story, one that I can definitely see myself coming back to for good feels, a solid read with broad appeal.

4 stars

Conversion: 11.85 / 15 = 4 stars

Rating Details: (click to show)

Prose: 4 / 10
Characters & Relationships: 8 / 10
Emotional Impact: 9 / 10
Development/Flow: 8 / 10
Setting: 9 / 10

Diversity & Social Themes: 5 / 5
Originality/Trope Execution: 4 / 5
Rereadability: 4 / 5
Memorability: 4 / 5

4 thoughts on “[Review] Running with Lions by Julian Winters

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