First off, the cover is gorgeous. In fact, it’s what initially attracted me to this book.
Running with Lions revolves around a soccer team called The Lions, and pretty much the entire book takes place while the players are at summer sports camp. The main character is Sebastian Hughes, the team’s star goalie who has aspirations of becoming captain. Sebastian is bisexual, and several of his other teammates are also gay or bi. They are all fortunate in having a coach who provides a welcoming and safe atmosphere where the players do not have to hide their sexuality.
So Sebastian is all set to have an epic summer at sports camp when he is blindsided by his childhood friend, Emir Shah, who shows up to camp, planning on joining the team. The problem is that something happened between the two of them years ago and Emir now hates Sebastian, and he doesn’t go out of his way to hide his dislike.
Emir is also somewhat of a loner — kind of a misanthrope — as he doesn’t get along with anyone at school, including the other team members. So he keeps everyone at a distance and makes no effort to close the gap between him and the other guys on the team, even at camp.
Sebastian decides to try to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, and he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But in spite of Emir’s increasingly lousy attitude, Sebastian finds himself not only attracted to Emir but also developing feelings romantic feelings for him.
So as you can probably guess, a romance develops between the two of them, but it’s not easy going and there are several obstacles they’re going to have to overcome.
What I Liked
I really liked the relationship between the team members — there was a strong bond between all of them which kind of made me think of how we often choose our own families, and those bonds of friendship can sometimes be stronger than families bound by blood.
That’s the feeling I got from the team — that they were one big inclusive family. This was especially true with these guys, I think, in that they were able to express their sexuality without any judgments. All in all, I thought that a novel about an LGBTQ inclusive soccer team was brilliant, though I was thankful that the book didn’t go into too much detail about the logistics of the sport. Some books go a little too far with game play-by-plays which can be annoying for me as I’m not much of a sports person.
Sebastian’s character growth was also something that resonated with me. Initially, he lacked self-confidence and had rather a negative self-image no doubt due to the bullying he experienced at school.
There was his struggle with feeling unworthy to be team captain. He was also not happy with his body, feeling that nobody could be attracted to him. I found it refreshing that this story handled body image issues from the point of view of a boy as this isn’t something we often see in YA fiction.
I enjoyed seeing Sebastian progress and grow throughout the story to a more self-assured and confident character. His relationship with Elmir helped to boost his self-confidence, especially in regards to body acceptance.
I thought the romance between Sebastian and Elmir was sweet and well-done. I am kind of a sucker for the frenemies to lovers trope so this especially worked for me. Well, this was more of a best friends to enemies to reluctant teammates to lovers, which still worked nicely IMHO.
What I Didn’t Like
There was one female character in the book, Gray and she was treated horribly by Mason, the boy she had a crush on. He was rude and mean to her throughout the book, and there were never any consequences to the way he treated her.
Yes, his behavior was explained as “he’s mean to her because he really likes her” but this old clichéd trope doesn’t work for me; in fact, I hate this trope. Gray was also kind of a cardboard cutout of a character, and all we see is her almost desperate one-sided crush on a boy who isn’t very nice to her. This whole thing kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Another thing I didn’t like was that the story was told in the third-person present tense: “Mason replies, “No.” Elmir takes another dip at the ball. He looks at him. Bastian beams. etc., etc.” I never like this tense in a book, and I’ve DNF’d books because of it. I personally find it jarring, and it tends to pull me out of the story, and sometimes I find it difficult to get past it.
I know many authors write in this tense and it doesn’t bother everyone; it’s just a personal preference of mine, and I tend to shy away from books that use this tense. So this might be why the writing felt stilted and disjointed to me from time to time.
There also wasn’t a whole lot that went on. There was some mild angst but no serious dramatic conflicts. I have to admit that I was waiting for some explosive event to take place but there wasn’t much to speak of. There were no surprises, no plot twists and it ended up being somewhat predictable. I hate to say it, but I did get a tad bored from time to time as the story progressed.
This was an adorable character-driven story with a likable cast of diverse characters. Give that this was more driven by the characters than the story, there’s not a whole lot of action going on so if you like your novels to be nail-biting roller-coaster rides, you won’t find that here. Luckily, the characters were multi-layered enough to hold my interest, and I did find myself invested in what happened to them.
Running with Lions was a light, fluffy summer story about friendship and love that was a fun read. Though it was somewhat of a light-hearted romance, it also dealt with several other important issues such as bullying (both Sebastian and Elmir), homophobia and racism.
If you enjoy sweet summery romances or stories about gays sports teams or summer camp, then you’ll want to check out this book. Though it was a little light on plot, I ended up enjoying it, and I’m glad I read it. It’s a worthy effort for a debut novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Mr. Winters comes up with next.
You can check out Running with Lions HERE