Running with Lions – Julian Winters – Review
Sebastian is heading to soccer camp for the last time. For his whole high school career he has spent his summers with his friends perfecting his soccer skills. Now is his last summer to do that. This summer is full of coming to terms with a phase of his life ending and another beginning.
All his confusion is not helped by an old friend, Emir walking back into his life. Can they fix what broke their friendship? What if they see that they both want more than friendship? How does Sebastian deal with these new feelings on top of trying to figure out where his future is going?
I kept seeing this book recommended by some of my favorite authors on Twitter. I was curious because it was a LGBTQ story that centered around male athletes. This was a new storyline that I hadn’t seen before. I was curious how that was going to be handled.
Becky Albertalli has a quote on the cover that says, ‘Funny, wise and ridiculously romantic. It hit me right int he heart.” and I think that sums up the story really well. It dealt with some important topics while also having some adorable scenes.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was that the romance was realistic. It wasn’t insta-love which was nice to see. These two boys were best friends at one time, they had a connection. That connection never died, it just faded for a while. I liked seeing them reconnect and I felt like it was real. I felt like this is how a romance can really evolve over time. They spent the summer figuring out what they were to each other.
I also really liked that the issue they had that ended their friendship wasn’t some huge drama. They didn’t have a fight. They drifted apart because of life situations. This also felt very real. It is too easy to drift from a friend, especially when you are young and don’t have the ability to connect on your own. Later you realize that it sucks but you also see that sometimes that is how life is.
The team was an idyllic team but it was sweet to see. I wish that teams everywhere were built this way. If athletes and kids can join a team and have everyone be as accepting as this team is, the world would be a good place. The coach being the driving force of this was nice to see. I hope this is something readers will take to heart and implement in their own teams if they are on one.
I could relate to Sebastian as well. He is afraid of what life is going to be like once he leaves high school. I was able to feel connected to him because when I left high school I only had the barest hint of an idea of what life was going to be like. And my life ended up nothing like I thought it was going to be, like not even vaguely close. I think he worries were done right, subtle but also easy to understand.
The cast of characters in this book were also very diverse. We had gay, bi-sexual and questioning characters. We had black and muslim characters. It was nice to see so many different people on a team together and working as one. I love how the team idea was used to bring these people together and connect them.
There was a content warning in the beginning of the book. It wasn’t until after I read the book that I looked up what the content warnings were actually for. For me, nothing stood out as triggering but then again I am lucky enough to not have dealt with any of the trauma that was dealt with in this book. I appreciate that this warning was there. I also appreciated that this publisher has a page on their site dedicated to highlighting any troubling moments in their books. I admire that.
I wasn’t thrilled with Mason’s character. I was okay with him but he did bother me a little bit. He came off as a jerk more often than not. I could tell he was one of those characters that was a jerk to the outside world but loved his friends. But as reader I wanted to see that softer side of him more.
I think a few more scenes with him being vulnerable would have softened his character a little bit. I never felt like I got close enough to him to not see him as a hard character. I saw the potential he had but I never saw it completely realized.
There was moments where Sebastian was bothered by his appearance and I thought that could have been explored a bit more. Boys or men with body issues is not something you see often and I think the book would have benefitted from exploring all of that a bit more. I felt like it started as a main theme and faded. I know that Emir helped a little but that isn’t something that disappears with one person complimenting you.
There was one moment that threw me out of the story a little bit. Sebastian gets angry at a teammate for being insulting to Emir. He gets into the other player’s face and argues with him. He wanted to punch him but doesn’t. I thought the scene was really well done. You felt his anger and his self-control at the same time.
The issue I had was with the way that it was stated that Sebastian started getting counseling after the incident. I couldn’t figure out why though. Yes, he was angry but in that situation, when someone is insulting someone you care deeply about that is a normal reaction. He didn’t hit him. He had enough self-control not too.
I could understand him going to counseling for other issues he was dealing with but not that one moment. I might have understood it more if it had been explained more as well. It was kind of just thrown in. I think it would have made more sense to me if the idea had been explored a bit more.
I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. I enjoyed it a lot. The romance was sweet and fun to read. I think it would have just benefited from a bit deeper look at some of the tougher issues.
“The burden to make your parents proud while still feeling clueless about what you’re doing with your own life is a struggle.” (pg. 70)
“How does he silence all the huge, monstrous fears biting at his mind?” (pg. 95)
“Love is supposed to be a happy, comforting emotion, but it always comes with conflict. And being anything but straight means making these huge declarations to the people closest to you.” (pg. 105)
“Confidence is earned by how many flaws you can find in someone else.” (pg. 135)
“Guys are beautiful. And girls are handsome. Words aren’t gender-specific.” (pg. 196)
“Acceptance has an amazing effect on people who pretend they don’t need it.” (pg. 224)