Vanilla by Billy Merrell

Vanilla - Billy Merrell

A novel of poems, 'Vanilla' follows Vanilla and Hunter as they go through their junior year of high school. Another friend, Clown/Angel, becomes a pov about halfway through the book.


Vanilla and Hunter are at a crossroads in their relationship. They were close friends who fell in love, came out together, and have been inseparable. The only problem is that lately some issues have come up. Mostly sex, but also other questions about identity and what it means to be gay. Hunter wants to make their relationship a sexual one and is beginning to be hurt by Vanilla's refusal. He also has frustrations about Vanilla's shy stiffness when it comes to a popular clique of boys at school, called the 'gang', who are out and proud, but, in Vanilla's eyes, ostentatiously so. Vanilla loves Hunter, but he doesn't understand why their relationship needs to change. He begins to wonder why Hunter can be ready and he isn't. Angel offers an outside perspective on the relationship and becomes closer to the two during the year, making their own personal discoveries along the way.


This was really sweet, but I was not in love with the format. The novel didn't gain much from being told by autobiographical poems, especially when the author partially inserted the poems into the story's world. Which of these poems exist in the story and which are strictly narration? If an author is going to tell a story with a poetic narrative, the poems should stand on their own better and, overall, I don't think they did.


That said, I appreciated the paths the three friends took and I'm glad Merrell didn't go for obvious narrative shortcuts. Could have used more love for Red, or any other woman for that matter.