“Friday I’m in Love” (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2023), the YA novel by Camryn Garrett, a 23-year-old queer Black author, is a celebration of LGBTQ visibility. The sweet romance, with a title that refers to the ‘90s hit song by The Cure, is set in a SoCal public high school and follows 17-year-old junior Mahalia Harris.
The working-class teen may have not had the money for a sweet 16, but now she’s determined to save up from her after-school gig to throw herself a belated party that would also announce her queer identity.
“I just feel like coming out shouldn’t be this dramatic, sad thing. No one should be crying about it,” Mahalia says, early in the novel. “People should be happy to announce that they’re queer.”
Unfortunately, the party plans are beset by financial woes, family and best-friend drama, and catching feelings for the new girl at school, biracial Siobhan, who just moved from Ireland. And then there’s the sudden threat of being outed when the budding relationship between the girls is discovered by a scorned ex-boyfriend when neither of the girls is quite ready to go public.
The coming out story explores the idea that, whether anyone decides to come out or not, they should do it on their own terms.
Mahalia daydreams about a rainbow-drenched celebration that involves “wearing a rainbow dress…while rainbow confetti is shot out of a cannon somewhere with Tegan and Sara playing in the background… My sexuality being celebrated instead of shunted to the side…”
The day Garrett sat down with Gay City News for an interview at Debutea, a café/flower shop in downtown Brooklyn that she counts as one of her writing spots, Paramore played overhead and the place was festooned with fresh-cut purple azaleas.
Garrett, who grew up in Bayshore, Long Island, moved to Brooklyn in 2020. She lives in what she called BoCoCa, the confluence of the downtown neighborhoods Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.
“It’s hard to tell when one stops and the other ones begin,” she said.
And though she’s already published three novels in her young life, Garrett keeps a day job at Books Are Magic, the local indie bookstore owned by the literary author Emma Straub and her husband Mike.
“Friday I’m in Love,” published earlier this year, is Garrett’s most recent novel, but it’s a book she’d been thinking about for a long time.
“I wrote this horrible — okay, not horrible, but plotless — first draft in high school,” she said. She returned to the story during the COVID-19 pandemic and revised it with the help of her longtime editor.
Garrett said her first two books were dramas that dealt with “issues.” The first, “Full Disclosure” (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019), which she wrote and published when she was still in high school, is the story of a teenage girl with HIV. The second book, “Off the Record” (Knopf Books for young Readers, 2021), is a #MeToo story about a teen journalist.
She pitched her third book as a romcom. “I wanted to do something fun and teen movie-esque,” Garrett said. Though, admittedly, it was hard to get the vibe and put the fun on the page while the pandemic raged.
“I wasn’t feeling very funny,” she said.
Garrett made a breakthrough when she started making pop culture references in the story to other now classic YA narratives like “Love, Simon” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
And, by the end, despite the rising backlash against LGBTQ stories, Garrett knew she wanted something unapologetically queer for the cover. She acknowledged the “conversations around how visible queerness should be on the cover of a book, especially now with book bans, and books getting pulled out of libraries and stuff.”
But, as a bookseller, she has seen first-hand how young readers seek out books with gay representation.
“They want something that is really, really gay. Kids want that,” she said. Turning to her own vibrant book cover, she said, “I know that dress has sold copies.”
Asked about the recent controversy with the Pride line getting dropped by the retail giant Target, Garrett said she got a phone call just yesterday from her younger sister, who reported that the pride products were still on display at the store back home in Bayshore, which Garrett described as a blue-collar town of cops, firefighters, conservative values.
But years of doing school visits have convinced Garrett that young readers are hungry for stories with undeniable gay representation.
“If you just listen to what they talk about in the hallways, you learn a lot about what they’re really interested in,” she said.
Referring to Heartstopper, the bestselling graphic novel turned Netflix series, Garrett said, “Even something like that, with two boys on the cover, that’s something kids gravitate to. We need to lean into it more.”
On that note, she’s hard at work on another YA novel and a middle grade story with a speculative element in which a girl hanging out in Central Park goes back in time to Seneca Village, the community of African-Americans who lived as free people and owned farmland, a real-life enclave in old New York that was razed by city planners to construct the park.
And there was no doubt that, for this year’s Pride festivities, Garrett was heading to the annual Dyke March, which attracted thousands of people and emphasized bodily autonomy. She was still figuring out what to wear, but she was looking forward to celebrating being out in the world.