You know that one thing good YA fiction tends to do? When it takes all the mishaps we made (or were allowed to make) while growing up and turns them into a continuing universal experience even adults could relate to? This feeling of comfort is exactly what made Julian Winters one of our favorite authors last year with Right Where I Left You. But he’s officially going down as one of our auto-buy authors with As You Walk On By.
Summary: The Breakfast Club meets Can’t Hardly Wait with an unforgettable ensemble cast in another swoony YA contemporary from award-winning author Julian Winters!
Seventeen-year-old Theo Wright has it all figured out. His plan (well, more like his dad’s plan) is a foolproof strategy that involves exceling at his magnet school, getting scouted by college recruiters, and going to Duke on athletic scholarship. But for now, all Theo wants is a perfect prom night. After his best friend Jay dares Theo to prompose to his crush at Chloe Campbell’s party, Theo’s ready to throw caution to the wind and take his chances.
But when the promposal goes epically wrong, Theo seeks refuge in an empty bedroom while the party rages on downstairs. Having an existential crisis about who he really is with and without his so-called best friend wasn’t on tonight’s agenda. Though, as the night goes on, Theo finds he’s not as alone as he thinks when, one by one, new classmates join him to avoid who they’re supposed be outside the bedroom door. Among them, a familiar acquaintance, a quiet outsider, an old friend, and a new flame . . .
Content Warnings: Homophobia, death, public humiliation, underage drinking, sexism, microaggressions, misogyny, sexual harassment, toxic gossip, biphobia
It’s an incomparable joy when a book not only checks out on all our favorite tropes but also brings in a fresh vibe to them; as if we’re heading for the same destination, but the path is more scenic, colorful, and original.
“Friendships shouldn’t have limitations. The only rule is don’t be a dick to people you care about.”
Julian Winters, As You Walk On By
Julian Winters has a masterstroke in sketching up humanly flawed characters, putting them in the messiest relationships, and then redeeming them with wholesome yet realistic apologies. While the blurb makes Theo Wright sound like the typical head-in-the-clouds YA protagonist (which he is), Wright has some really good dance moves, excellent taste in anime, and a whole lot of room to grow (and grow, he does!) The story starts off with Theo sneaking out into Chloe Campbell’s party with his friends Jay and Darren, all set to ask his crush Christian to prom as part of a dare. Instead, he hides away in the upstairs bedroom with an unlikely bunch of classmates, having a separate party altogether. But the fun and games soon transition into an existential crisis soiree as they start opening up about the things they’re running away from, which leads to some well-written character arcs.
“One community loves you for your melanin but denies you because of your queerness.” Aleah smiles sadly. “The other claims to fight oppression because ‘love is love’ but is quick to forget the added struggle we face because of our Blackness.”
Julian Winters, As You Walk On By
Theo’s complicated friendships aside, an element that gave even more depth to his character development was the bond he shared with his father. And we loved how Winters showcased this father-son relationship from both sides. Even in terms of plot, Miles Wright was quite instrumental in knocking some sense into Theo and navigating discussions around the Black queer experience. Moreover, the way Miles’s character arc just interconnected with the rest of the story was pitch-perfect!
We at The Honey POP will never be able to get over the found family trope, especially when it features a diverse set of characters struggling with the most relatable problems ever. We love it when our cinnamon rolls mess up really bad (just like us) but still manage to get back up as a better version of themselves (just like us). And we love it when books with beautiful covers end up being even more beautiful from the inside. If you love these things about books too, then grab a copy of As You Walk On By here.