By David Canfield
June 29, 2020 at 12:00 PM EDT
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S&S Books for Young Readers

Robbie Couch's debut novel is all about living with pride — from page one.

The first-time author doesn't explore coming-out in The Sky Blues, but rather takes his comfortably out hero on a different kind of teen journey. Set in small-town Michigan, the book follows Sky Baker, an openly gay high-senior whose plans for a fabulous Promposal to his crush go awry when they're leaked in a homophobic e-blast. Hurt and humiliated, he prepares to drop out and leave his town behind altogether — until his peers convince him to fight back by joining in a school-wide hunt to expose the perpetrator.

Based in part on Couch's high-school years (though his own prom, he admits, was "awful"), The Sky Blues explores themes important for any Pride season: self-acceptance, following your heart, and overcoming adversity. Ahead of the book's publication on April 6, 2021, Couch chatted with EW for a first-look at his book to help round out our month of Pride coverage. Read on below, and be sure to check out the beautiful cover, exclusive to EW, at the top of this post.

The Sky Blues is available for pre-order.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the main inspiration for this book?

ROBBIE COUCH: I think it started with me wanting to explore the messiness of growing up gay in a small town. Small towns can be difficult to navigate as a young queer person! You often have to trudge through a barrage of ill-informed hate and the policing of your identity — but you may also stumble upon some of your fiercest, lifelong allies too. Sky learns that his tiny town, for all its flaws, is filled with a lot of love.

You grew up in a small Michigan town not unlike this one. How autobiographical is this story?

It’s autobiographical-ish. My own childhood informed Sky’s world and some of the characters in it, but Sky is his own person. And he deals with a lot of stuff I never had to deal with as a teenager! The politics of Instagram? A horrific hacked e-blast gone viral? A mom who is not a great person? Sky goes through it, truly. He’s tougher than I was at 17, that’s for sure. I started coming up with Sky’s story in 2016, and I think watching a particularly horrifying then-candidate for president resonate in the rustbelt spurred me to think about the LGBTQ kids in communities like the one I grew up in. They need to be seen, heard, and celebrated for who they are.

What was your process writing it like?

Oh boy: So many drafts! Poor Sky has seen it all. Is it sad I can’t even answer this question? My process had been so muddied and inconsistent, I’m not even sure you can qualify it as a process. This being my first book, I learned a lot about how I shouldn’t write a book, to be honest. For book number two, I am obsessively outlining, beat-by-beat, down to the last chapter. It will save me many headaches along the way, I’m certain.

Your book explores visibility and living with pride — ideas most every LGBTQ person confronts in high school and beyond. What did you want Sky’s journey to look like, in that sense?

Sky’s story isn’t a coming out tale; he’s living openly as a gay teen on page one. But as most LGBTQ people know, the journey to self-acceptance can be a bumpy one, and it rarely ends the moment you leave the closet. Sky has to blaze his own trail on that journey, and he runs into a few surprising sources of inspiration along the way.

Any big literary or pop-culture inspirations on your book? What about LGBTQ media specifically?

Definitely! There are so many YA authors — Adam Silvera (Infinity Son), Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Julian Winters (How to Be Remy Cameron), Ryan La Sala (Reverie) — whose work has made more room for stories, like Sky’s, that amplify marginalized voices. Sky and his friends are big film buffs too, so readers may or may not get a heavy dose of fan-girling over Ava DuVernay and the movie, To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Just a fair warning.

Talk a little about this cover. What kind of vibe did you want to go for, and what do you hope it signals to the reader?

Isn’t it great? I wish I could take credit, but that goes to the team at Simon Teen and Jeff Ostberg, the artist who envisioned it. Sky’s story is one that deals with both incredible loss and overwhelming joy, with the color blue often surfacing in different ways on the narrative’s emotional spectrum. I think Jeff’s work perfectly captures that balance.

What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

Whatever speaks to them! It’s such a weird, disorienting, scary time to be alive, and often marginalized young people take the brunt of societal pain. If there’s even one teen struggling in a town like Rock Ledge who sees part of their own story reflected back at them through any part of The Sky Blues, mission definitely accomplished.

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